Building Walls Or Building Cathedrals? The Choice Is Yours!

Perspective is everything! I have heard this axiom expressed over and over in my life, and I believe it is accurate. Recently it was reinforced through a personal experience. As I mentioned in my last blog, I recently had an experience that challenged my self-image, causing me to rethink my skills and abilities.

Jennifer Campbell, someone who I have not thought about much since my dissertation, has researched the role of self-esteem and performance. Through her research she has identified various characteristics associated with Low-self-esteem (LSE) and high-self-esteem (HSE). Typically in my Organizational Behavior class I will discuss this in terms of locus of control. Those with an internal locus of control are captains of their own destiny, while those who have an external locus of control are controlled by others. I used to tell my son, when he would get so made at his sisters, that he was letting them control him.

Campbell stated this, “Overall, high-self-esteem (HSE) individuals have a greater tendency to persist in the face of failure and obstacles.” She, and her associates, found “after a single failure, HSE participants persisted longer toward a goal than those with LSE. But HSE individuals spent less time seeking a solution after repeated failure.” LSE individuals tend to ruminate more and seem to suffer from analysis paralysis when faced with failure. Is this a learned perspective or is it innate? Nurture or nature?

How does one choose the perspective to build walls of build cathedrals? Simon Sinek in his wonderful book “Start With Why,” describes the importance of perspective with the story of two stonemasons. Someone walks up to the first stonemason and asked if he likes his job. Stonemason one replies, “I’ve been building a 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 life time. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.”

I have worked with people like this all of my career. Even at a company like Boeing where employees are paid an excellent wage, employees would consistently complain about their work. I was one of those until ten years into my career. Then my perspective changed.

This leads us to the second stonemason. The same question is asked, and he responds “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.” See perspective is everything. After ten years at Boeing this is what I began to say, I am trying to make a difference in my company. The last 20 years then were spent doing just that, and I had a lot more fun.

So the recent event that challenged my self-image? Do I look at it as a monotonous event that is a waste of time, or do I see it as a part of building the cathedral? I think I have answered my question while reflecting this morning. Obviously I am going to choose to see the event as a cathedral building moment because that is who I am. I will take this event and grow from it.

I have the choice on how I respond to given situations in my life. I can choose the tear down, or I can choose to build up. I can choose to stagnate, or I can choose to learn.

Maybe the glass half full metaphor is true. I choose to see a glass as being half full instead of half empty. I choose to see opportunity and not disaster. I choose to have an internal locus of control, thus controlling my own destiny. I will take the steps necessary to get to the next level, whatever that level may be.

And that is my thought for the day!


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