Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Joy of Contribution

Why do you go to work in the morning? Why do you do what you do?

Most everyone has heard of the story of the three bricklayers. There are a lot of different versions, but the essence is this.

A man is walking through a town and comes across three bricklayers working at a construction site. He asks each of them what they are doing.

The first one says, "I am laying bricks." He even seems a bit miffed at the absurdity of the question.

The second one says, "I am building a wall."

The third one looks up with a smile on his face and says "I am building a cathedral."

I've often seen this story used to support the importance of understanding the big picture. But I think something more profound is going on here. As Dan Pink and others point out, one of the things that really fuels us is a sense of contributing to something bigger than ourselves. A mission. A purpose.

We all want to do good in the world. And yet our day-to-day work lives can sometimes feel like they beat the very life from us.

But so much of that is just our own thoughts about what is happening. About who is doing what to whom and why we think things should be different.

There's a couple of things to notice about thoughts. First, they are always changing, and sometimes you don't have them at all. Practices like meditation and yoga are to some extent about noticing when you have no thoughts, and creating more of those spacious, healing moments.

The second thing is that some thoughts serve you better than others.

It can be tempting to think about all the bad things that are going on at work and focus on all the ways that you would change things if only someone would give you permission. But think back to the excitement you felt when you started your job. I bet there was some greater good in the world that was part of the attraction.

Maybe you're like me and you want to make better health care available to more people. Maybe you want to share knowledge or beauty. Maybe you want to show people how they can lead from within.

Take a few moments each day and remind yourself why the bad stuff is worth it. And notice how your attitude and effectiveness change when you do.


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