“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” -Ecclesiastes 2: 10-11
“The goals on that first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses—to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited into the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness. It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.” -David Brooks, book The Second Mountain
“I got everything I ever wanted and I’m still miserable.”
A brilliant performer and famous celebrity once spoke this line to open a “Harold” at Improv Olympic in Chicago. And I’ll never forget it. (The Harold is a longform improvisation developed by Del Close. It’s a collage of scenes inspired by a single suggestion which are interwoven and connected and then bend back at the very end. Think Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm).
He wasn’t joking. You could feel the authenticity and emotion behind it. Like a sledgehammer to the audience. We were all stunned. Pole-axed. There was a long ass pause. And then he continued his monologue. The performers then went on to perform an incredible, raucous, 45 minute set building off that first line.
If it’s status or money or power or fame or fortune you seek, just know these will not fulfill long term.
Meaningful work, meaningful community, service to others, making your own art. These things do fulfill. They do bring lasting joy. And the best part?…You can make them happen. You’re in control of your joy. You’re not dependent on external events.
How many more timeless books of wisdom do we need to learn this truth? Or people who’ve scaled the top telling us we’re climbing the wrong mountain.
Turn around. Go back down the way you came. When you get to the bottom, look ahead. The second mountain, the right mountain, awaits.