Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Thoughts on Your Journey from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


For the last many weeks I have been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig. This monster 400+ page book is the most dense, slow reading experience I have had since college… but it’s one of the first books in a long time that is true journey. It wraps you up in wandering, drifting, “Chataquas” on concepts like quality and the philosophical thoughts on technology and why some folks appear to have a hatred for it while others embrace it.  I cannot do the book justice in even fifty blog posts, so I won’t try to review it.  By the way, I’m not even finished with it yet.    However, a few days ago I read through a part of the book where the author and his son went on a mountain climbing adventure. The language and the message in this section was powerful to me, and I wanted to share it as I believe it relates to our personal journeys in amazing ways. In this part, his son keeps getting winded and needing a rest. He realizes that the son is climbing the mountain only for his ego. He wants to conquer it and get to the top. Here are some of the author’s comments just after that realization:

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.

But of course without the top you can’t have any sides. It’s the top that defines the sides. So on we go. . . we have a long way . . . no hurry . . . just one step after the next.

Then a few pages later the thought continues after realizing that his son continues to be tired.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we’re paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.

The application to many here should be obvious. To entrepreneurs, to new grads entering the workforce, to anyone embarking on a project, a mission, a journey, these words should carry great significance.

I hope to share more excerpts from this book as I slowly pass through it.



  • Charlie Wright says:

    After you finish ZatAMM, I recommend you read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” (if you havent already).  I liked them both a lot but I found it hard to get much practical inspiration from ZatAAM.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm
    • Johnson Cook says:

      Thanks Charlie, it’s on the list– some days I wonder if I will ever finish it. I enjoy it so much that many times I go back and re-read the last few pages several times over.   And on the other side, not sure I want it to be finished!

      June 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm
  • Dave Will says:

    JC, loved this post. I’m on an EO Retreat right now and being “awake” more is part of the discussion. This speaks to that. I also reflected on my hike with Zac up Mt. Washington last summer and how I praised so much the accomplishment. Perhaps I should have been more focused on the journey. Also gets me thinking about the biz. If you’re building a business to sell it, your likelihood of success seems lower… but perhaps not…

    June 11, 2012 at 11:46 pm
    • Johnson Cook says:

      You are right… and since I’ve been thinking about this part of the book for the last couple of weeks, I can see the application everywhere.  For me, I’ve started realizing there is value in relinquishing some focus on the top of the mountain and realizing the climb is the whole point in:     
      Kids growing up.   
      Going on vacations.     
      Working out (running/swimming).
      A work day.
      A meal.
      Reading a book.

      It’s powerful.    I’ve always been told to “enjoy the journey” … but the reason I have always been given is that “you will enjoy life more.”   But my favorite part about this is that it frames the advice in a much more serious tone… if I don’t enjoy the journey, then I may not have what it takes to reach the destination. Now that has my attention!

      June 12, 2012 at 11:01 am
  • Dan Gennari says:

    Johnson, This is a fantastic post.  I read Zen… around 2002.  Back then, I was single, young(er), I commuted to a cubicle every day, and I probably didn’t really “listen” to the book.  I still have the book, and this has inspired me to go pull it off the shelf and start reading it again.  This passage has struck a chord with me because it is so relevant to many complicated discussions going on in my personal life this summer.  I had cancer for almost two years (it’s possible I still have it), and nothing puts a laser focus on enjoying this moment, this laugh and this day like coming face to face with end of life discussions at 32 years old.  Thankfully, I achieved a stable remission and have lived 2 years beyond that close call.  Thank you for your writing.  

    June 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm
    • Johnson Cook says:

      Dan, you have amazing experiences and are very inspiring. Thanks for the comment.    Funny you mention about being younger and not listening to the book.  I am with you. I feel like a lot of the concepts I have been told/taught my whole life, but there is something about now that is making them make more sense. Striking chords that didn’t seem to exist 10 years ago. It’s amazing, yet 10000% indescribable.  Take your time on the re-read. I recommend a quiet beach, early in the morning. That’s been the most fun I’ve had reading it. 

      June 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm

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