Committing to the long term

I imagine you’ve heard some version of this story:

A traveller was walking through town and happened on a construction site. He asked a worker there, “what are you doing?” Clearly annoyed with having to state the obvious, the worker replied, “I’m laying bricks!”

Intrigued, the traveller continued on to a second worker, and asked him the same question. “Well, today I’m finishing up this wall,” was the reply.

But being persistent, the traveler decided to ask a third mason what he was doing. Breathing a sigh and looking up to the heavens, the man declared, “we’re building the most magnificent cathedral this town has ever seen!”

On one level, this story is about being able to have the big picture, and using that vision to build inspiration and alignment. Which is, of course, a Very Good Thing.

But this week I heard another challenging question:

In history long past, it wasn’t uncommon for people to labor at things like pyramids, cathedrals or monuments for several generations. That means that there were many people who worked hard, day in and day out, for their entire lives, which never got to see the finished fruits of their labor.

What do you suppose motivated them?

Now that’s a challenge. In our day and age we like to think in terms of minutes, hours, days, weeks, maybe quarters.  “Long term planning” for us is, what, five years? And we rarely have the concentration to stick to that.

When I’m designing my life – who I choose to be for the rest of my days on this planet – I hope I have a longer view than that. Maybe, if I’m a really spiritual person, that will transcend just my short lifetime.  So what’s supposed to motivate me to accomplish anything with this?

Do I have the courage to commit myself to something which will benefit my employer ten years from now? How about something which might benefit humanity 100 years from now?

And am I OK with the likelihood that my contributions may have an impact even when the memory of my name is long gone?

After all, we don’t really know who spent their lifetimes building those pyramids or cathedrals. We just appreciate that they did.

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