There's an old story about a man who walks by a construction site and sees workmen pushing wheelbarrows, each filled with an enormous stone.
He asks one what they're doing.
"What does it look like?" he says with a sneer. "Hauling rocks."
Unsatisfied with that answer, the passerby asks another construction worker the same question.
The workman doesn't bother looking up. "We're putting up a wall."
Frustrated, the man tries one last time. "I say there," he asks the next fellow, "can you tell me what you men are doing here?"
The workman puts down his wheelbarrow, wipes his forehead and says with a broad smile, "We're building a cathedral."
Here are three men, all doing the same job. One is hauling rocks. One is putting up a wall. One is building a cathedral.
This story says a lot about the attitude that each of us brings to our lives… or could if we were willing to change our perspective.
My primary occupation, for example, is writing investment advice. One reason I write is to meet my overhead. To that extent, I'm hauling rocks.
A greater objective is to help build a publishing business. The more successfully we market ourselves, the more readers we attract, the better our business performs. To that extent, I'm putting up walls.
But the real objective of my writing is to help readers achieve and maintain financial independence. When I stay focused on that, I'm building a cathedral. (And, not incidentally, meeting my lesser goals, as well.)
Idealists will counter that creating wealth has nothing to do with building cathedrals. They are mistaken.
You can improve yourself, voice your opinions, or organize around a cause without cash. But you won't effect much change in your community – or build an actual cathedral – without it.
Contrary to what some believe, money isn't about having "more stuff." Money is independence. It liberates you from want, from work that is drudgery, from relationships that confine you.
You can't reach your potential or live life to the fullest if you spend your days swimming in concerns about money. No one is truly free who is a slave to his job, his creditors, his circumstances, or his overhead.
Wealth is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter if you're a man or woman, black or white, young or old, handsome or homely, educated or not. If you have money, you have power… in the best sense.
Wealth is freedom, security and peace of mind. It allows you to help others, to do and be what you want. It enables you to follow your dreams, to spend your life the way you choose.
Money gives you dignity. It gives you choices. That's why every man and woman has the right – perhaps even the responsibility – to pursue some level of financial freedom, whether you define that as being independently wealthy or just climbing out from under your credit card debt.
When my investment advice empowers people, when it gives them security or peace of mind, I feel good about my work. I'm building a cathedral.
You can apply the same line of thinking to whatever you do.
My friend John Mackey, for instance, is the head of Whole Foods, the world's largest chain of natural and organic food stores. It is his responsibility to oversee and grow a $13-billion corporation.
In my conversations with him, however, what really excites him is showing people how to enjoy longer, healthier, more disease-resistant lives. His firm is even launching Wellness Clubs within its stores to educate customers and offer them free classes on nutrition, diet and healthier cooking.
Will this also help grow the company's bottom line? I don't see how it couldn't. But to the extent that John and his team are helping people live longer, healthier lives, they are also building cathedrals.
Want to put a touch of glory in your life? Find a way to change your perspective, to understand how what you do – in your home, in the workplace or for a charity – meets someone else's needs or improves their lives.
The choice is yours. You can haul rocks. You can put up walls. Or you can build a cathedral.