are you building a cathedral?

There’s an allegory you may have heard that does a beautiful job of illustrating the power of framing. Here it is as told by Sage Cohen:

In one of my favorite allegories, a traveler in medieval times comes upon a stonemason at work. He asks, “What are you doing?” The man looks weary and unhappy. He responds, “Can’t you see I am cutting and laying down stone? My back is killing me, and I can’t wait to stop.”

The traveler continues on his way and comes upon a second stonemason. “What are you doing?” he asks. “I’m building a wall,” says the stonemason. “I’m grateful to have this work so I can support my family.”

As the traveler walks on, he encounters a third stonemason who seems to be doing exactly the same work as the previous two. He asks the man, “What are you doing?” The man stands up straight. His face is radiant. He looks up at the sky and spreads his arms wide. “I am building a cathedral,” he answers.

This allegory makes plain the reason I love building my own products so much. The day-to-day tasks I’m completing — writing code, accounting — may not differ much from what I might be doing if I were consulting, but the meaning behind those tasks makes all the difference for me.

A great CEO can make you feel the same way. The most important and underrated job of the CEO is to remind everyone in the company that they’re building a cathedral. It’s not an easy task, but communicating the vision and repeating it day in and day out is indispensable.

Next time you’re feeling frustrated, remind yourself that you’re building a cathedral.

jan 2020

👋, I'm Ben, a hacker, entrepreneur, and endurance athlete in SF. These days I'm building the customer infrastructure of the future with Unboxed.

Previously, I co-founded dailymile, where we built what the New York Times called "a site where runners can broadcast their miles across the Web to anyone willing to listen."

I'm passionate about giving a hand up to athletes, and helping startups with product and their Web APIs. The best way to get in touch is @bweiner