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Life as performance art

Life as performance art


By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

The story has been told of how President Theodore Roosevelt visited the National Cathedral shortly after ground had been broken.

When he asked three workers what they were doing, the first said he was moving a pile of building stones from one pile and putting them into another. The second said something similar. The third smiled and proudly announced, “I’ve been hired to help build the greatest cathedral in the world!”

All three were being paid the same wages to do the same physical work, but I suspect only the third man believed he had a good, maybe even a great, job. He was building something for the future and benefit of others.

I thought about that story after reading a Sunday New York Times Magazine article about “good jobs.” It seems there is tremendous dissatisfaction and what we have come to call burnout in even high-paying, prestigious careers. Many of those professions come at a personal cost, and it’s not surprising persons in them start to think there has to be more to life than just making money.

It’s far more than long hours. It’s the brutality of office and corporate politics, passive-aggressive and sometimes aggressive-aggressive behavior, the constant demand for an upward tick in statistics, and more.

Worst is the sense of not being respected. After a while the title, corner office, parking spot near the entrance and even money don’t bring much satisfaction.

I went for a walk and started thinking about our area. Despite the cold it will not be long before help-wanted signs appear in windows.

Many of the jobs are seasonal and fit in the service industry category: ice cream dippers, counter help, wait staff, housekeeping, lawn and garden work, and so on. All honest work with an appropriate salary, no matter how much we might wish it was less work and more money.

Circle back to those three men from more than a century ago. The big difference between the third one and the others was he had locked onto the bigger picture. That could probably be said of the workmen shifting huge blocks into position in ancient Egypt, at Stonehenge and 100 other places. The third man had grasped the part of building a magnificent structure he would never see completed. It helped to give meaning to his life.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s different for all of us. Perhaps all that matters is we believe we are making things a bit better for others. That applies to all of us, from an entry-level job at minimum wage all the way to CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations.

The people I admire most see the big picture and want to build something good for the future. They are visionaries, whether they own the company or are the newest employee. Their vision is contagious.

That contagion is a good thing, especially in communities which rely heavily on tourism. Let’s face it, no one has to come here. There are millions of places to eat, sleep and shop, and rumor has it that there is decent scenery in other parts of the country.

Holiday makers don’t have to come here but they do. And they come back because they encounter visionaries all around who are making something special and memorable for everyone else. They are building our guests’ happy memories for the future.