I’ve heard of a story of three bricklayers once.
When the first one was asked, “What are you doing?”, he replied, somewhat irritated, “Can’t you see? I’m trying to finish laying all these bricks so that I can finish my workday.” The second bricklayer was also asked the same question. And he replied, “Well, I just hope to finish building this wall today.” But when the last bricklayer was asked the same question, he replied, looking up with a twinkle in his eyes, “I’m helping to build this cathedral!”
I’ve also heard of the moral of this story being this: that your perspectives matter when it comes to determining how much joy you get out of the daily grind. The job is pretty much the same for these three bricklayers, but how they see where their job fits into the larger picture are all different. Same work, but one has a job, another has a career, while the last one has a calling.
Some of the things that you put your hands to indeed require a really long term perspective, for you may never get to see the results of your work. Otherwise, how could they continue with the building of the Sagrada Família for more than 130 years?
But I also think that there could be another way of thinking about the meaning of this story.
As a millennial growing up in a culture of relative affluence, sometimes it’s very easy to become too idealistic. It’s easy to dream that everything I do for work would eventually contribute to some greater purpose for the world. But a world of perfection doesn’t really happen, right? At least not right here, right now, in our imperfect world. Although that does not mean that we don’t try to build the perfect world that we dream about, at least we can recognise that we might not see that world in our lifetime.
Changing your perspective might help you to find greater meaning in the work that you do. But what if the bigger perspective does not resonate with you? What if the ‘cathedral’ that you are working on is not the one that you want to help build? What if you want to build another ‘cathedral’?
One way to do it is to be very clear of the reasons why you would sign up for any sort of daily grind.
You could separate the great work that you do to contribute towards a vision that you have from the work that you do for more practical reasons. Yes, we should still put effort into the work that we do to feed ourselves and our families. But when we recognise that the work does not align with where we want to go in the long run, does constant promotion up the corporate ladder make much sense? Remember, with greater authority, comes greater responsibility. The higher you climb, the greater the responsibility you have over the lives of other people.
It would be ideal to have your calling, career and job line up perfectly. But it does not always make practical sense. So when you become clearer which area of work pays your bills, which area of work (or hobby) feeds your soul, and which area of work leads you to your destiny, it becomes easier to say yes and no to opportunities that come your way. It will help you to determine how to steward the same 24 hours a day that you have as anyone else. And it will help you to determine how to allocate the energy that you have for each day.
So yes, seeing the bigger picture helps you gain clarity of the meaning of the mundane. But interpreting the bigger picture with greater intention requires constant reflection and questioning.
It is a work-in-progress. And perhaps will always be. But are you on a journey to build the ‘cathedral’ that you want to build?