I’m at a small, charming cabin near a deep, cold lake, 750 miles from home. I’ve planned this trip for over a year, in order to catch my breath, look back at my career, examine my metaphors, and look ahead to new interests.
In short, I’m starting to scale my “second mountain,” a term New York Times Op-ed Columnist, David Brooks, uses for the next big challenge of life. He outlined his ideas at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival https://www.aspenideas.org/session/second-mountain-next-big-challenge-your-life, stating the first mountain brings productive work, family-raising, establishment of a supportive community, and discovering one’s faith or life philosophy.
Brooks’ “second mountain” can be anything that creates a change from the norm, whether it’s planned (job change, permanent move, retirement), or unplanned (crisis). It is characterized by the realization that life is deeper and more mysterious than we once thought. On the second mountain, the search for meaning becomes the guiding question, and generativity, one of its key responses.
Brooks’ message was important for me to hear. Retiring from a teaching career in which I felt relevant, connected and professional was difficult. I wasn’t sure how I would approach open, unplanned days. Mostly, I didn’t know if those dreams I had about writing more than ever would come to pass.
So, I took the geographical cure. I left home. Twice, actually. Once, immediately after school was out, to relax and decompress after the whirlwind of packing up a life. A second time, to reflect and to mark my transition by participating in a 5-mile walk across an iconic bridge.
Brooks talks about the discomfort of transitioning to the second mountain. We are not just breaking away from things, but actually breaking them–sets of behaviors, procedures, and norms we’ve relied upon. He terms this “the valley.” While he says we can sometimes see more from the valley than we can from the mountain top, we can still feel disenfranchised. What worked for us before doesn’t always work for us on our second mountain. We need a new skill set.
What’s interesting to me is that the second mountain was probably always in the distance to begin with. That is, the seeds of things are often planted early in us. And even on the first mountain, we are inexorably moving toward the second. The unfamiliar places we come to can still feel somewhat familiar. And, Brooks says, both mountains come with mentors.
I return home next week.
My two breathers have been necessary and important doorways. I don’t yet know much about my second mountain, except that it’s right here, in front of me. And I can’t yet tell if I’m refreshed, revitalized or excited. I do feel open and curious about it. And in an odd way, ready.