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Outlier’s Path

The Road to Character

At our November All Hands, Roelof mentioned one of my favorite books: The Road to Character by David Brooks. The book was inspired by Brooks’ journey of cultivating his resume values, racking up career achievements, yet feeling a giant hole inside him. He has mentioned in a variety of interviews about his book that he wrote it to “save my own soul” and to pursue the eulogy values that enable a person to “do good and be good” because these are the things for which your family and friends will miss you and remember you. He goes on to write, “character is a set of dispositions, desires, and habits that are slowly engraved during the struggles against your own weakness” and the remainder of the book is eight chapters of biographical sketches describing the personal weaknesses each individual overcame.

The biographical sketches show that each individual is imperfect, struggles, and suffers, but what makes a person of character is a willingness to accept responsibility and then come out of bad situations better. Another theme across the individual sketches is learning through their human failings to avoid small compromises because “small moral compromises on Monday lead to bigger ones on Tuesday.” These two concepts are why when we were young, we were taught some simple values to live by, and I am proud that Sequoia lives by them too:

  1. Do the right thing.
  2. Whatever we decide to do, we strive to do our best.
  3. When we fail, which we will, we take responsibility.

These are not easy values to live by, but it is easier when we surround ourselves with a community of people with those values to keep each other accountable. In essence, our living community is crucial for the values we hold. Then perhaps, my interpretation is that Brooks isn’t writing about eulogy values. He is writing about living values.