How to Have a Meaningful Life

Why your second mountain is the answer

John P. Weiss
Feb 27, 2020 · 9 min read
Artwork by John P. Weiss

“But when they get to the top of that mountain, something happens. They look around and find the view…unsatisfying. They realize: This wasn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain.”

The second mountain

According to Brooks’s book, on the second mountain:

“Life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment.”

When we’re still climbing that first mountain of success, we tend to cast a wary eye at commitments. We might be committed to our spouse and kids, but avoid outside commitments. Namely, because they compete with our precious time.

The vanity of ambition

According to David Brooks’s book, four commitments define a life of meaning and purpose:

“That moral ecology had a lot of virtues. It emphasized humility, reticence and self-effacement. The message was you’re no better than anybody else, but nobody is better than you. It held that self-love-egotism, narcissism- is the root of much evil. If you talked about yourself too much, people would call you conceited, and they would turn up your nose.”

Of course, the old American culture had its failings. There was racism. Housewives were often trapped, unable to pursue careers. The point is, there was less of the hyperindividualism we see today.

A second, timeless, larger self

Visit Instagram and you’ll see endless, vainglorious posts of people flexing in the gym. “Look at me!” they seem to be exclaiming. When we’re on the first mountain of our lives, we are self-centric. It takes time to move from self-centered to other-centered. But eventually, as we reach the top of our first mountain, we experience a stomach level sadness. We feel lost.

“The scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

And so we descend into the valley. That confusing, no man’s land between our first mountain and second mountain. As David Brooks notes, the “shallow food” of ambition won’t satisfy this deeper hunger in us. We discover that money, titles, and vacations don’t shape our moral purpose. We need something more meaningful.

“The knowledge comes to me that I have space within me for a second, timeless, larger self.”

Our transformation happens in the valley, as we begin to find our vocation. We also burrow deeper into the substrate of our souls, finding purpose in religious faith and/or a commitment to a philosophy. Life becomes about serving something greater than ourselves. We become acquainted with the joys of deep commitments and service to an ideal or others.

“Fulfillment and joy are on the far side of service.”

We discover that commitments and sacrifices to a greater cause or purpose shape our moral foundation. As the theologian Tim Keller notes, real freedom “is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones.”

A cause or purpose outside of ourselves

When I lived in California, I knew a young man named Elliot who created a successful martial arts school after he graduated from high school. My son achieved his black belt at Elliot’s martial arts school.

Enrich your moral character

If you want to have a meaningful life, you need to find your second mountain. You need to move from self-centric living to other-centric living. This can be found in deepening your commitment to your spouse and family. Learning to listen much closer, and making their growth and happiness more important than your own.

“These days, partisanship for many people is not about which party has the better policies. It’s a conflict between the saved and the damned. People often use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away- ethnic, neighboorhood, religious, communal, and familial.”

Lastly, if you want to have a meaningful life, rediscover the benefits of committing to a community. Perhaps it’s the community in your small town. Serving on your city council, or in the local soup kitchen.

The view is spectacular

There’s nothing wrong with financial and career success. It’s not a sin to work out and improve your appearance. A lot of us strive for such things on our first mountain. But when you start hearing those internal whispers from within your soul, listen.

Before you go

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Sign up for Personal Growth Newsletter

By Personal Growth

Free articles, courses, and other things you might like.  Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

John P. Weiss

Written by

Writer & Artist

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

John P. Weiss

Written by

Writer & Artist

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store