Reading David Brooks latest book, The Second Mountain gives me a pause.
What is the purpose of life? From since young we have been told that we need to study hard, get a good job, become sufficiently wealthy and then our lives will be set. But is that all there is to it?
We also see some people, who, after already achieving worldly success, suddenly decide to let go of all these and immerse themselves into something completely different, such as charity or religious work. What really drives them to it?
And still, there are people who, while on their ways ascending to top , suddenly find that they hit by unfortunate events, and their lives have to take a 180 degree turn. They can no longer pursue their careers like before, and their focus is now very different from the past. In the end they live a life for what many will feel like a wasted one, but even so they seem to have adjusted well to whatever calamities that befall them. How should we make sense of them?
In the book, David Brooks uses the two mountains metaphors to describe what many of us have to go through as we progress through our lives. When we are young, our current meritocracy society places an expectation of us: you have to be an achiever, you have to be a winner. Your worth to this world is solely determined by how much you can make for yourself. You climb to the top of the first mountain and you feel that you are at the top of the world. You are the King of the earth!
Then, something happens. You feel so lonely at the top, is that all there is to it? Now you have all the money in the world but you don’t seem to have the time to enjoy them; the pay is good but the job is completely soul-crushing. What is the meaning of all these? Am I doing something meaningful?
Or a disaster strikes; maybe your wife file a divorce from you, maybe an accident or an illness completely alter your trajectory, maybe you find that your kids grow up alienated from you because you are a complete stranger to them.
You are at the bottom of the valley, and you start to question the conventional wisdom, you also start to question what you were doing thus far. Is it really worth it? Am I wrong?
Then you have an epiphany, suddenly you see that besides the first mountain, there is a second mountain ahead of you. This is a taller mountain, a more fulfilling one to climb, but somehow on your way ascending to the top of the first mountain, you miss it.
Unlike the first mountain, where everything is all about me, me and more mes, the second mountain is about you, the others, and the communities.
Scaling the first mountain is all about how much you can take for yourself. But scaling the second mountain is all about how much of yourself that you can give away.
Scaling the first mountain gives you happiness, but happiness is fleeting, it comes and goes. Joy, on the other hand, is more permanent. And this is what scaling the second mountain can give you. You get joy.
Climbing the second mountain requires giving– you devote yourself to a course, and you give with the main aim of benefiting the others. You no longer are thinking about making a living for yourself, you are thinking about serving the community, making the lives better for others. Your greatest rewards don’t come in the form of paychecks ( for which they can be pitiful little in terms of numbers), but come in the form of the smiles you can put on other people’s face.
You no longer have a career, you have a vocation, a calling. Whereas when climbing the first mountain you do calculus of costs and benefits, when climbing the second one you forgo your own calculations so that others might benefit.
Writing after divorcing his wife of 27 years, this is a soul searching book. Largely this is a book about David Brooks and his life journey, but this is also a book that speaks to our hearts, for we all go through ( or will go through) what David Brooks and many ahead of us have went through. Sooner or later we will have to ask the same question as David asked, and we have to find out for ourselves what is the thing that we really want, as opposed to what we think the society wants of us.
The sooner we get to confront the valley, the better, for it will give us more time to climb the second mountain, and to do what is really important.
When we started with kindlemalaysia.com some 8 years ago, the main aim was not so much to make money, it was all about putting a smile on avid readers face, by enabling them to have access to knowledge instantly. (In case you are asking, no, we don’t make an obscene amount of profit, we just make enough to cover our running expenses and salary, thank you very much. )
8 years on, with booxmalaysia.com joining in the mission and with one additional new staff, our main vision remains essentially unchanged: we are still believing in the painless ways of buying and using kindle/BOOX and to have unfettered access to any books in the world.
For that we are innovating on all fronts: we relentlessly try to find cheaper ebook deals so that our fans can benefit; we unlock different ebook stores ( not just Amazon) by introducing BOOX ebook reader models; we help our fans to register Amazon accounts that they can use to buy ebooks, resell pre-loved Kindle/BOOX eReaders.
Instead of just sell the device at a cutthroat price, and leave out the warranty process to the buyers, we offer full standard 1 year warranty to our fans. Because we believe in the painless way of buying and using ebook reader.
And running the whole operation can be a cleansing and soul searching experience from time to time. We constantly have to ask ourselves– why are we here? What values are we providing to our fans? Why our fans need to buy from us, and not from other channels? By our presence, are we making the whole reading community a better place? Are we providing enough values to justify our premium?
Do we still believe that helping kindle/BOOX fans to own and use ebook readers is a worthy goal? Do we still experience this visceral feeling of great satisfaction from the deep bottom of our hearts, every time we see a new fan opening up his kindle/BOOX device?
Conquering the second mountain is a vocation, and it’s a transformative experience. We are glad that we embark on this journey; we might not have a lot but we have sufficient; we might not be glamorous but we have the love of our fans. We are definitely richer than otherwise, not because we can “korek” more, but because we can give.