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Should You Live for Your Résumé or Your Eulogy?

Within each of us are two selves, suggests David Brooks in this meditative short talk: the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love — the values that make for a great eulogy. Brooks asks: Can we balance these two selves?

Let’s think about the differences between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you put on your résumé, the ones you bring to the market place, and the eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in your eulogy, which are deeper; who are you in your depth? How are you in your relationships? Are you bold, loving, dependable?

Most of us will agree that the eulogy virtues are the most important virtues. But are they the ones we think about the most? The answer is in most cases, no. Spiritual leader and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, has described two sides of our natures, which he calls “Adam I” and “Adam II”.

Adam I is the worldly, ambitious, external side of our nature. He wants to build create, innovate. Adam II is the humble side of our nature. He wants only not to do good, but to be good. To live, in a way, internally, that honours spirituality, creation and our possibilities. Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to listen to the world. Adam I savours accomplishments, Adam II savours inner consistency and strength. Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why we’re here. Adam I’s motto is success, Adam II’s motto is love, redemption and return.

Soloveitchik argued that these two sides of our nature are at war with each other. Where we live in perpetual self-confrontation between the external success, and the internal value. The tricky thing about these two sides of our nature work by different logics. The external logic is an economic logic; input leads to output, risk leads to reward. The internal side of our nature, is a moral logic and often an inverse logic: You have to give to receive, you have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself, you have to conquer desire to get what you want, in order to fulfil yourself you have to forget yourself, in order to find yourself you have to lose yourself.

We happen to live in a society that favours Adam I, and often neglects Adam II. The problem is that turns you into a shrewd animal, who treats life like a game, and you become a cold, calculating creature, who slips into a sort of mediocrity, where you realise there’s a difference between your desired self and your actual self. You’re not earning the sort of eulogy you want and hope someone will give to you.

You don’t have the depth of conviction, you don’t have the emotional sonorousness, you don’t have commitment to tasks that will take more than a lifetime to complete. Let’s think about a common response throughout history of how you build a solid Adam II, how you build a depth of character.  Through history, people have gone back into their own pasts, sometimes to a precious time in their life, to their childhood, and often, the mind gravitates in the past to a moment of shame. Some sin committed, some act of selfishness, an act of omission, of shallowness, anger, self pity, trying to be a people pleaser, or a lack of courage.

Adam I is built by building on your strengths, Adam II is built by fighting your weaknesses. You go into yourself, find the act that you have committed over and again in your life, your “signature sin”, out of which the others emerge, and you fight that sin. Then, out of that wrestling, that suffering, a depth of character is constructed. Often in our culture, we are not taught how to deal with our inner most sins, how to confront and combat them. We live in a culture with an Adam I mentality, where we are inarticulate about Adam II.

To summarise, then: Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime, therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true, or beautiful, or good, makes any complete sense in any immediate context of history, therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone, therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own standpoint, therefore we must be saved by that final form of love; forgiveness.

Watch David Brooks’ meditative short talk on our two selves here.

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