By Published: Feb. 25, 2021

Chancellor Phil DiStefano, David Brooks and Allie Reuter

Chancellor Philip DiStefano, David Brooks and CU Boulder Senior Class Council President Allie Reuter on a video call

Whether it’s addressing a personal crisis or a nation in turmoil, bestselling author and social commentator David Brooks shared stories about himself interspersed with bits of wisdom learned from others in his conversation with Chancellor Philip DiStefano this week. 

The Center for Leadership hosted Brooks as the featured speaker in the fifth annual Leo Hill Leadership Speaker Series. This year, more than 4,500 people from across the country dialed in to attend this remote event, intended to highlight the importance of moral character and social responsibility. 

David Brooks

David Brooks

Prior to the event, Brooks carved out time to chat with CU Boulder students involved in a variety of leadership programs on campus. Brooks said he’s never seen a generation so “morally passionate, sometimes too morally passionate.” 

Here are some key takeaways:

Find your purpose in life

  • Divide your life into chapters and set goals for, say, the next three years. The happiest people assess their lives and interests, set goals and try new things that excite them. “The most unhappy people lead day-to-day lives…”
  • Ponder what is truly beautiful to you. What are you doing when you lose track of time completely? Do more of that.
  • Ask yourself: What is life asking of me and what problems are out there that I’m uniquely suited to serve vs. what do I want to do with my life?
  • Distinguish happiness from joy. Joy happens when you forget about yourself, when you’re dancing with friends, when you’re a teacher and seeing a student achieve something that they never achieved before. Sometimes, shoot for happiness, but joy is better.

Slow down

  • Don’t allow yourself to get so busy that you lose time for self-reflection and for the things and people that matter to you.
  • If you receive some big award, accolade, or a giant raise and it doesn’t make you feel happy or joyful, figure out why and make course corrections in your life.

Visit the Center for Leadership to learn more about leadership at CU Boulder. A recording and transcript of Brooks’ talk will be available on the website soon.


  • Like one of Brooks’ University of Chicago professors said: If you read deep books carefully, you will find the keys to life.
  • Read Jane Austen to learn about love, relationships and marriage, especially if you’re resistant to the idea of dating. Marriage is one of the most single important decisions you will make. 
  • Use social media wisely. Set limits on use. Build connections around common interests.

Be kind, be a weaver

  • Ask yourself, am I lonely? If the answer is “yes,” you are not alone. Take steps to connect to others, especially those who are different from you in places you rarely go. Join a book group. Have dinner with friends.
  • You don’t have to be rich and famous to be a trusted and valued person in your community. Be kind. Help others. Be vulnerable. 
  • Reject the culture of individualism.  

Learn about Brooks’ “weaver” movement. (Weave: The Social Fabric Project is an initiative within the Aspen Institute founded by Brooks that emphasizes shifting from the American mindset from hyperindividualism and personal success to relationalism, which places relationships at the center of our lives).