David Brooks' Philosophy of Stumbling

A friend recently shared with me the latest David Brooks column in the NYTimes. The full article, The Moral Bucket List focuses on a lot of new-age career anxieties that I hear (and to be honest, talk about myself) often. I found three bits particularly resonant:

1) Resume Virtues vs Eulogy Virtues
As Brooks defines them, "resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. Eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral - whether you were kind, brave, honest, or faithful."

2) The Gap Between the Actual Self and the Desired Self
"But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet."

As far as I can tell, this gap has always existed for the overwhelming majority of the population. The desire and strive to close that gap is more indicative of a rich depth of character than actually having that gap closed. I believe Brooks gets to this when he discusses the philosophy of stumbling in his conclusion. 

3) The Philosophy of Stumbling
"The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves."

This is easier said than done, especially in a place like New York City (or San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Boston, or any other bustling metropolitan area bursting with professional ambition). But at the core of the Philosophy of Stumbling, what I enjoy most is the re-definition of ‘better’ as something that is derived from a carefully constructed set of individual values. Socially deconstructed and from within.

Random Sidenote: once a month seems like a considerably high frequency to be running into people radiating ‘inner light’, but major kudos to whatever you're doing with your daily commute, Mr. Brooks.

Thanks for sending along, Anand.