Are You Just Working or Are You Building a Cathedral?

People, particularly Americans, process an almost-constant stream of comparative judgments of things ranging from the mundane like appearances, clothes, cars, smart phones, jewelry, homes, and the like, to things on grander scale like status, accomplishments, influence, and respect. We are skilled at measuring ourselves against others, yet remarkably unskilled when it comes to truly evaluating our own potential. Worse, few of us have taken the time to understand our passion or purpose in life.

It is said that 80% of Americans are unhappy in their jobs. They find them dull, monotonous, and even life-draining. Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action tells a wonderful story of two stone masons:

You walk up to the first one and ask; “‘Do you like your job?’ He looks up at you and replies, ‘I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.” You thank him for his time and walk on.

About thirty feet away you walk up to a second stonemason. You ask him the same question, ‘Do you like your job?’ He looks up and replies, ‘I love my job.  I’m building a cathedral.  Sure, I’ve been working on this wall for as long as I can remember and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But I’m building a cathedral.’”

Are you just ‘working in the hot scorching sun,’ or are you ‘building a cathedral?’

The answer to this profound question lies in whether or not you have discovered and are pursing your purpose, your passion, your why in life. If the answer is yes, you are truly blessed. If it is no, you are in the company of the majority. Too many in this group are so busy chasing external treasures and comparing their progress to others, that they miss the true treasures that lie inside – their passion and purpose. No no one is forced to remain lost in this fruitless chase. All that is required is some serious soul searching and practical observation.

When you discover your purpose you “find it’s something you’re tremendously passionate about,” as Steve Pavlina puts it. You have new energy and direction in your life. Triumphs seem to come more often, and hurdles become less formidable. The results of your efforts improve. As Emerson said “It is a fact often observed, that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion, who cannot write well under other circumstances.”

If you are indeed passionately ‘building your cathedral’ planning becomes vital. Ben Franklin wisely counsels “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” The most rewarding part of our work, indeed the why we are in business, is helping people excel in their purpose by optimally aligning their resources and wealth with their cause. Few doubt the importance of good planning, but still, very few do it.

Jim Collins’ landmark book “Good to Great” was written to guide organizations from mere goodness to greatness. But the principles he organizes under “Stages” are equally applicable to purpose-driven individuals, and in fact are integral to our Wealthcare planning practice. Collins’ principles are below with brackets where required to reference individuals rather than organizations.


Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for [their] cause, the organization, the work—not themselves—and they have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition. A Level 5 leader displays a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” [We are as passionate about helping our clients achieve and exceed their goals]


Confront the Brutal Facts—the Stockdale Paradox. Retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. [Our process continually and objectively evaluates the statistical confidence of our clients’ plans highlighting opportunities as well as threats enabling well-informed decisions.]

The Hedgehog Concept. Greatness comes about by a series of good decisions consistent with a simple, coherent concept—a “Hedgehog Concept.” The Hedgehog Concept is an operating model that reflects understanding of three intersecting circles: what you can be the best in the world at, what you are deeply passionate about, and what best drives your economic or resource engine. [You manage the passion and we will squeeze as much from your resources as your goals demand.]


Culture of Discipline. Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action—operating with freedom within a framework of responsibilities—this is the cornerstone of a culture that creates greatness. In a culture of discipline, people do not have “jobs;” they have responsibilities.

The Flywheel. In building greatness, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.


Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress. Adherence to core values combined with a willingness to challenge and change everything except those core values—keeping clear the distinction between “what we stand for” (which should never change) and “how we do things” (which should never stop changing). Great [people] have a purpose—a reason for being—that goes far beyond just making money, and they translate this purpose into BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) to stimulate progress. [Our goal is to help each client reach and exceed his or her purpose-driven goals.]

Ours is a fantastic business because we get to work with people who are passionate about being all they can be. We are valuable to them because we understand their purpose, embrace it, and best align their resources toward it.

Howard Thurman offers this wonderful challenge to us all: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Go and build your cathederal!