Climbing Second Mountain

looking west
Looking west to Second Mountain from a ridge of First Mountain – part of the Watchung Mountains in New Jersey

I live between First and Second Mountain of the Watchung Mountains. In this valley, with its small river as a dividing line, I am between two large stages of my life.

There are lots of ways you can divide a lifetime . At 21, I would have said there was my childhood, high school, and college. Now, all three seem to be just one part of my life.

David Brooks has written The Second Mountain and I picked up the book at the library because of that title and where I live. Brooks uses the climb up the first mountain as a mostly self-centered one. I found online descriptions for this part of life as “in search of résumé virtues” and finding “the skills you bring to the marketplace.”

The younger Brooks has written about related topics in his New York Times columns. His earlier book, The Road to Character, examined some thinkers and inspiring leaders trying to find how they built a strong inner character.

I believe most of us feel that we should live a life larger than ourselves. That “road” he wrote about earlier might be the one up Second Mountain. On this second journey, we are looking to lead a more meaningful life. But all around you on the mountain is a self-centered world, so how do you accomplish your goal?

I read that second mountain is not the place for finding and acquiring  résumé virtues, but a time to secure “eulogy virtues.”  These are “the ones that are talked about at your funeral.”

Brooks wrote Bobos in Paradise which is subtitled “The New Upper Class and How They Got There,” and is described as the stories of some self-centered bourgeois bohemians who were somewhere between “1960s values and 1990s money.” In some ways his books chronicle his own “road to character” journey. Fifteen years after Bobos,  he was a 50-something who was try to find meaning and “save my own soul.”

Before I started reading the book, I read an excerpt online and listened to a sample and I connected immediately to several passages. Here is Brooks on that first mountain:

“Every so often, you meet people who radiate joy—who seem to know why they were put on this earth, who glow with a kind of inner light. Life, for these people, has often followed what we might think of as a two-mountain shape. They get out of school, they start a career, and they begin climbing the mountain they thought they were meant to climb. Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. 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.”

On the second mountain – and not everyone wants to go there or is able to climb it –  your life should move from self-centered to other-centered.

We all know this desire, even if we don’t really desire the same things. On second mountain, you desire things that are truly worth wanting. You lose the desire for things other people tell you to want. Interdependence and not independence. A life of commitment.

Brooks defines four commitments for this life of meaning and purpose. First, is a commitment to a spouse and family. Next is a commitment to a vocation. He also lists commitment to a philosophy or faith. Finally, is a commitment to a community.

Although Brooks looks within, he also looks at others who have lived committed lives.

This might sound like a book for older people, but t really is better read by younger people for its guidance in choosing a partner, vocation, philosophy, and how to begin putting commitments into the climb of first mountain.

Society is probably not going to help your climb the second mountain. Society favors the first mountain’s freedom, individualism, and putting self first.

Brooks says that if you get to the top of that first mountain and are “successful” you may still find yourself unsatisfied. He writes that these people “sense there must be a deeper journey they can take.”

But some people get knocked off first mountain. “Something happens to their career, their family, or their reputation. Suddenly life doesn’t look like a steady ascent up the mountain of success; it has a different and more disappointing shape.”

And other people have something happen that knocks them off the path if not off the mountain. He writes that “the death of a child, a cancer scare, a struggle with addiction, some life-altering tragedy that was not part of the original plan” Where are they? “Whatever the cause, these people are no longer on the mountain. They are down in the valley of bewilderment or suffering. This can happen at any age, by the way, from eight to eighty-five and beyond. It’s never too early or too late to get knocked off your first mountain.”

That passage caught me. As I said, I literally live in a valley and so I wondered if I am also between the first and second mountains of my life.

Writers can take metaphors and analogies too far. Life is not all mountains and valleys. I know that I sometimes still live on that first mountain, but I have also made my way up the second mountain. I suppose I do live oftentimes in the valley between.

Brooks’ “small rebellions” that lead to the second mountain are to rebel against your ego ideal, and to rebel against mainstream culture. I can see my explorations of Buddhism and other spiritual journeys as a way to battle ego. I am not much of a rebel against culture. I haven’t pursued money, power or fame, but some of that is more due to a lack of opportunities than some nobility on my part. I suspect that on the first mountain I would have easily grabbed at all three of those things if I had the chance. I’m not sure that now I would rebel. I truly am living in that valley.

Someone who rebels and alters their life at any age has moved from one mountain to another. The book gives examples from the radical lawyer who gives up a law practice and moves to Tibet or quits a consultant job to teach in an inner-city school. He writes “I have a friend who built a successful business in the Central Valley of California. She still has her business but spends most of her time building preschools and health centers for the people who work in her company. She is on her second mountain.”

I taught for 45 years. It wasn’t inner-city schools but I am very comfortable with the work I did and I truly feel I made a positive impact on my part of the world.

This past week I climbed up my nearby mountain to a hawk watch. I could see from my perch on First Mountain the more rural Second Mountain to the west. And looking east, I could see a more urban landscape.

And looking east from First Mountain, I can see New York City in the distance across the Hudson River.

This is not a spoiler, but I will tell you that toward the end of the book, David Brooks has a kind of epiphany when he is hiking in Aspen. He was in a bad place in his life, coming out of a failed marriage. He pauses in his walking to read a Puritan prayer about the redemptive power of suffering. He says that he felt “the presence of the sacred in the realities of the everyday.”

Some people will find their second mountain through a crisis or religion or a spiritual practice. Some people will find the sacred only when they arrive on second mountain.

I like Brooks’ recounting of a lunch he had with the Dalai Lama. “He didn’t say anything particularly illuminating or profound, but every once in a while he just burst out laughing for no apparent reason.”

There is a reason for the laughter, but it is not apparent to all.

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the United States. It’s another holiday that seems to have lost a lot of its meaning.  Like some other holidays – Veterans Day, Memorial Day, some would even say Christmas – we now view this as a day off and a long weekend. Many children associate today with the end of summer and going back to school.

The first American Labor Day was marked on a Tuesday – September 5, 1882 – organized by the Central Labor Union in New York as a day of rest for working persons.

The Haymarket Riots (or Haymarket affair or Haymarket massacre) was a demonstration on Tuesday, May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It started out as a rally in support of striking workers. Someone threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting and that resulted in gunfire from the police, the deaths of eight police officers (most from friendly fire) and some civilians.

The legal proceedings that followed got international press and eight “anarchists” were tried for murder. Four men were convicted and executed, and one committed suicide in prison, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland supported moving the holiday to a September date to avoid associations with the Haymarket riot and Socialist May Day associations. He signed a bill into law making the September Labor Day observance a federal holiday in 1894.

Most other countries celebrate workers on May first of each year. “May Day” refers to several public holidays but is associated with International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organized by unions and other groups.

Americans don’t really do much to celebrate work or workers today. We have barbecues, backyard blowouts, watch early college football games. And yet, now is not a good time for workers. Unemployment is high and businesses are cutting back. It’s not a good time for labor unions either. There are lots of demands for concessions by unions on their contracts and some politicians are calling for an end to unions.

America is a work-obsessed culture and it seems a shame that this holiday doesn’t have more of a connection to the positive aspects of work and workers.

The Pomodoro Technique

Being a virtual worker has its obvious advantages, such as no commuting, variable work hours and days, and working in your pajamas from the couch. It also has its disadvantages, such as allowing you to do nothing and lose track of time.

Because much of my work these days are billable hours rather than a salary, it is important that I keep track of how long I work on a project. I need those stats both to invoice clients and to give estimates to new clients.

This was a skill I needed to develop when I shifted my working days to virtual ones. One technique that I started using turns out to have a formal name. More on that in a bit…

This time management and productivity technique is very simple. When you start a task (not a project, but a piece of it), set a timer and work on that task for 25 minutes. Then, take a short break (3-5 minutes). Start working on the task again for 25 minutes and repeat until it’s completed.

I just started doing this on my own and it was only later that I discovered that I was using the Pomodoro Technique.

Il pomodoro.jpg
Pomodoro tomato timer – from Erato at Italian Wikinews. – Transferred from it.wikinews
to Commons by Fale using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. His technique was to use a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Originally, he broke it down into six steps. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

The technique has been popularized more recently via a bunch of apps and websites that provide timers and instructions.  I just use a cheap digital timer that can count down. I tried using my phone timer but for some reason it was less effective. Perhaps because the screen would go to sleep, so those numbers weren’t always staring at me.

One of the app options is Focus Booster which will automatically record your timesheets  for each project or task and lets you export it for easier invoicing.

This technique is closely related to several other productivity techniques, such as timeboxing, and iterative and incremental development.

Timeboxing allocates a fixed time period, called a time box, to each planned activity. Several project management approaches use timeboxing. It is also used for individual use to address personal tasks in a smaller time frame. It often involves having deliverables and deadlines, which will improve the productivity of the user.

Iterative and incremental development, which is often used in software design, uses the basic idea of developing a system through repeated cycles (iterative) and in smaller portions at a time (incremental). This allows software developers to take advantage of what was learned during development of earlier parts or versions of the system.

This post originally appeared at Ronkowitz LLC

 

Skills Upgrade

Rocker Bono and writer Thomas Friedman were quoted online as revealing the 3 skills that American workers need today. And though I doubt that anyone really knows the secret 3 ingredients in the sauce for workers, I was curious.

Friedman has written several books since he started a mantra with The World Is Flat. That book really kicked up the conversation about how the world is changing at an accelerated speed and that American workers were falling behind and needed to adapt their learning quickly for this shifting marketplace.

That is why they chose being a lifelong learner as one of those skills. He points to AT&T who have partnered with the online course provider Udacity as a way to update the skills of its workforce. The company offers employees about $8,000 per year to take courses. Friedman says this sends employees the message that a lifelong AT&T employee is a lifelong learner.

But professional development is not new. Perhaps the platform for it is new.

The second skill suggested to boost creativity is pausing. This one comes from Bono and his band U2. He says that unlike recording studio machines that on pause halt productivity, humans on pause begin a different kind of productivity through rethinking, reimagining and reflecting.

Clearly, the skills these two believe we need to cultivate are what are considered soft skills. Maybe you would have guessed the skills would include tech skills, like coding, data analytics or AI. Those are things workers can learn in courses and training sessions, but soft business skills are getting more attention lately.

Feedback from employers to colleges are often more about teaching soft skills such as the ability to give and receive feedback, and work collaboratively.

One reason is that machines (computers is too restrictive) are getting smarter and are taking over certain aspects of business, but interpersonal skills is an area that is machine-safe.

Friedman says something that I have not heard before. He claims that one of the first things on a résumé that business leaders evaluate is if applicants were in clubs like 4H or were an Eagle Scout. They find that is a good indicator of a work ethic and soft skills that allow people to grow and adapt with the business.

Bottom Line: Make learning a priority. Upgrade your skills. Increase creativity with an occasional pause. Develop interpersonal and communication skills.

Committing to Three Marriages

Think about your relationship to your partner, your work and your inner self. Is that 3 different things, 3 interrelated things or one whole?

According to David Whyte, most of us are in more than the one “marriage.” One is with a significant other (even if we are not legally married), but also ones in which we have made secret vows to our work and to our self.

In his book, The Three Marriages, he explores those three marriages, their commonalities, their mutual relationships and the way they can together contribute to a life.

David Whyte, who is a poet and Associate Fellow at Templeton College and Said Business School at the University of Oxford. I can’t think of any other poets who use poetry and concepts of creativity in organizational development. Apparently, Whyte does in working with companies to foster “courage and engagement.” He views this as part of  individual and organizational change and calls it “Conversational Leadership.”

He subtitles the book “Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship:”

“We can call these three separate commitments marriages because at their core they are usually lifelong commitments and … they involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously… To neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.”

All three renewed dedication as the years go by. We hear so much about having a “work/life balance” but he believes that to separate these three (split life into two parts) in order to balance is harmful. He doesn’t believe you can sacrifice one marriage for any of the others without causing deep (psychological) damage.

Whyte grew up in England and now lives in the American Pacific Northwest and along with six books of poetry, he has written three books of prose.

He has a degree in Marine Zoology and has worked as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands, lead anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, the Amazon and the Himalaya.

Looking at some of his poems, you might see that they often live in the different marriages too.

Some are in the usual realm of poetry, while some enter more deeply psychological, theological and philosophical areas, and others look at work. I suppose many poets use these areas, but with this book of marriages as the lens in front of me, the separations seem more apparent.

Her is how his poem “Start Close In” begins:

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

One of the articles read this past year, said that “The equilibrium between productivity and presence is one of the hardest things to master in life, and one of the most important. We, both as a culture and as individuals, often conflate it with the deceptively similar-sounding yet profoundly different notion of “work/life balance” — a concept rather disheartening upon closer inspection. It implies, after all, that we must counter the downside — that which we must endure in order to make a living — with the upside — that which we long to do in order to feel alive. It implies allocating half of our waking hours to something we begrudge while anxiously awaiting the other half to arrive so we can live already.”

I am committed to that first marriage – the traditional one with a partner. The one with work is going through some transitioning.  The third marriage, engaging the soul and senses, feels to me to be the one that supports the other two. There is some things of the traditional marriage that he carries into the others. Living with the Self, and Divorce, Forgiveness, even Remarriage. Any of these marriages can fail.

Can we surrender ego to something larger than it?

This is not a question of balance or balancing amounts of time and resources.

Yes, you can have all three marriages work at the same time and  what we learn about life and ourselves in one marriage, makes us better partners in the other ones.


Listen to a brief excerpt from the book

Whyte’s  website

 

The Power of Saying No

no“Paradoxically, the best solution to the problem of overload is to do less. Every day, make a point of saying ‘no’ nicely to one thing—either in your work or in your personal life. The therapeutic effect will astound you.”

I stumbled on the book The Power of Doing Less by Fergus O’Connell. Yes, like most of us would be, I was attracted to the title and the idea of doing less. Being a popular non-fiction book, it must, of course, have a colon and long subtitle: Why Time Management Courses Don’t Work And How To Spend Your Precious Life On The Things That Really Matter.

I have never taken a time-management course, but I am a maker of too many To Do lists who is often angry at how much I don’t get done on them.

O’Connell starts with the obvious: we will never get everything done. Taking that as a given, he wants you to not allow “Fate” to decide what you do. Fate in the real world is usually bosses, deadlines, guilt, and the expectations of other people. You need to decide for yourself.

He encourages us to identify what really matters and where you should place your attention. Great advice. And like much great advice (eat better, exercise etc.), difficult to follow.

Of course, I am tempted to read it because, like any self-help title, it promises, as one reviewer says, that I can “feel less stressed, but will also stop feeling guilty for leaving the office having only done half the things on your ‘to-do’ list, and will find great swathes of time opening up for you.”

The book’s topic is perfect for any of us (all of us?) who feel we don’t have the correct work / life balance, and never seem to have enough time whether in work or in our personal life.

  1. Do you feel that you’re not getting to spend enough (or any) time on the things that really matter to you?
  2. Is work the reason why that other life is passing by?
  3. Do you feel like you have no choice in these matters?

A good part of this approach to a solution is using the power of saying “No.” Sometimes, you have to say it to yourself.  Do I really need to write three posts on this blog this weekend?  Sometimes you have to say it to loved ones. “No, I’m not going with you to shop for curtains this afternoon.” Sometimes you have to say it to a boss.  “No, there’s no way I can have that done before I leave today.”

Which one of those three scenarios would be the hardest for you?