Are You Building A Wall, or a Sanctuary?

Ideas. Insight. Inspiration.

Are You Building A Wall, or a Sanctuary?

December 5, 2008 Persuasion 3

Fact is, any job can be bricklaying, no matter how glamorous it initially appears.

Wall or Sanctuary

Picture this.  A guy is walking down the street, and he sees three bricklayers laying bricks.  He says to the first one, “What are you doing?” and the bricklayer replies, “What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m laying bricks, and you’re interrupting me.”  He says to the second guy, “What are you doing?” and the bricklayer replies, “Are you stupid?  Didn’t you hear what he said?  I’m laying bricks to build a wall, and you are in my way.”  The guy says to the third bricklayer, “What are you doing”  Only this time, the bricklayer stops, turns and smiles.  He says, “Thank you for asking.  I’m a bricklayer, and I am laying bricks to build a wall.  But did you know that this wall will one day be part of a sanctuary?  If I do my job well,  families will come into this sanctuary for generations, to find hope and inspiration! What do you think of my work?”  Three people doing the same work. The first two have no clue why they do what they do.  All they’re left with is to put one brick on top of the other.  The third knows what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and why it matters.  Whose work do you suppose will be better?  Which would you rather have working on your home?  More importantly, what is the vision you hold for the people around you?  Are you inviting them to lay bricks or build a sanctuary?  Can you show them or tell them how what they do is a part of something greater than themselves?

Like I was saying, any job can be bricklaying, no matter how glamorous it initially appears.  This has certainly been true in my life.  When I first started getting invited to speak and do training programs, I saw it as my ticket to see the world.  And see it I did.  I stayed in some of the finest hotels.  I traveled first and business class to many countries.  I enjoyed the applause of my audiences.  And my friends appeared to be quite impressed with it all.  Several told me I was one of the luckiest people on earth, because I got to travel, to taste the cuisine of so many lands, to experience different cultures, to meet people in every city in my own country and in so many countries around the world.  

But a funny thing happened along the way.  At some point, I was delivering 140 programs a year.  And it all started to blur together.  Soon, no matter how nice the hotel room, to me it became a glorified box with a bed and a bathroom.  I was surrounded by strangers.  I was away from my wife and daughter, from everything I truly cared about in this world.  The airplane seats were uncomfortable, the service seemed distant at best, and the food … it didn’t hold a candle to what I had at home, what I left behind every time I left for the airport.  I was a bricklayer, and I was building a wall.  

That’s when I came across Buckminster Fuller’s writing. In his book ‘Operatingl Manual for Spaceship Earth’ and in his end-of-life summary, ‘Critical Path,’ he provided a focus of attention that continues to inspire millions around the world. As I read his words, I wanted to be a part of his vision for humanity, and to play my part in making it happen.  So much so, that I quit working for a company that paid me just enough to keep going but not enough to be free.  I completely reorganized my business to that end. It was a big task, hard work, and there was no immediate reward.  My friends called me the ‘breatharian’ (someone who lives on breathing, no food, no water) of professional speaking.  

Yet suddenly, I was alive again!  Maybe it was the risk I was taking, or the excitement of making such a bold move.  But I could feel it in every bone in my body, when I rose up in the morning and lay down at night.  I had a reason to do my best at what I did.  

Don’t get me wrong.  It didn’t make the travel any more enjoyable.  But when the phone rang, when someone called and invited me to speak, or do training, or consult with or coach them, I loved the chance to make a difference, to give my best and do my best.  It made everything worthwhile.  It still does.  

What is the vision you hold for yourself and for the people around you?  Are you inviting them to lay bricks or build a sanctuary?  Can you show them or tell them how what they do is a part of something greater than themselves?  

I’d love to hear about what your building.  Use the comment box and share your excitement.  Or tell me about the wall you’ve been working on. Maybe talking about it can make a difference!

be well,



3 Responses

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Great story and insights!

    It seems like the themes are:
    1. Find the job you love, or love the one you’re with
    2. Follow your passion
    3. Play to your strengths and spend more time in your strengths than your weaknesses
    4. Have a compelling why behind what you do

    I’m building a collective knowledge base for life skills. I want people to be able to stand on the shoulder’s of giants. I’ve seen knowledge as the difference that makes the difference. To put it another way, I want to improve the quality of people’s lives through insights and actions.

  2. Thanks J.D.

    I commend you for that ambition. You do this on your blog and you do it really well. I hope my blog readers will check yours out.

    Meanwhile, here’s another interpretation of the story. The first two bricklayers are from New York. Third one is from California! (I don’t know if this translates in writing!)

    best wishes

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