Where’s Your Cathedral?

3 min read

1 parable

2 book recs

10,000 hours rule





Three men at work were asked, What are you doing?

“I am cutting this stone,” said the first.

“I am earning three shilling and six pence a day,” said the next.

The last man stood, mallet in one hand and chisel in the other, and said proudly, “I am helping to build this great cathedral.”*


I came across a version of this in Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance,** and she refers to it as the Three Bricklayers. The connection she was making with it had to do with purpose. Each Paragon of Grit (a term she uses for standouts) has a purpose for what they do. And, I have found that to be true.

Some seem to know what they were meant to do. I have not had that fortune, working many jobs, in retail, in the U.S. Army, in business, in teaching. And this circuitous and long path took me to writing, where in the beginning I was ‘cutting this stone’. I’m not sure what three shilling and six pence would be today, but let’s say that as the second bricklayer, I was ‘earning a pittance’ in freelance. The difference today is, after nearly two decades of brick laying, I have started to help build a great cathedral. And by modern measures, I have invested the requisite effort. Because to achieve any level of competence and skill, to become a professional, requires sustained and singular effort, which some say is 10,000 hours.*


Where’s your cathedral? Well, that’s the hard part and it was no easy discovery. For me that has meant doing a lot of things, lifelong study, an insatiable curiosity, and probably the most important of all, discipline and effort. To help build a cathedral for me involves truth-seeking: doing something I love to do and finding a purpose which makes the effort worthwhile. This sense of purpose is one which is noble, good, and something beyond the self.

Here is the closing comment from the original author of the parable, Bruce Barton. The story he recounts is about the great fire of London in 1666. The men are working on St. Paul’s Cathedral which was left in ruins.


There are three ways of looking at life:

  1. I am just cutting this stone.
  2. I am only earning a living.
  3. I am doing a small part of a great work.

I have not seen the Architect and I do not altogether understand the plan. But I believe there IS a plan, so I work with good spirit in which is no fear.

Bruce Barton, 1927



*What Can a Man Believe? by Bruce Barton. Internet Archive, free text. Published 1927, p. 251-252. Final passage of book on last two pages. The men are working for Sir Christopher Wren to help restore St. Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of London.

** Angela Duckworth 6 min TED talk on Grit. Whether or not you are familiar with her work and this book, you likely have come across her idea of grit and the research she has done at length about the trait beyond IQ which she ascribes to those who achieve greatness or excellence.

*Researcher Behind ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ Says Good Teaching Matters, Not Just Practice by Jeffrey R. Young, May 5, 2020. I read about this rule in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which drew on the work of researcher Anders Ericsson


Jun 18, 2023


About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

Stay Up to Date

Rise above the tedium with the TreeHouseLetter. Always learning with a bit of fun.

Latest Posts

Northeast by Northwest: How Travel Changes Me

5 min read On travel British Columbia in summer On Eats and Feats: where to eat and what to do * Eve Kendall: And, I don't particularly like the book I've started. Roger Thornhill: Ah. Eve Kendall: You know what I mean? Roger Thornhill: Ah, let me think. Yes, I know...

“Well-Intentioned Fools”

2 Min read Poetry for Emergencies On grief * * I came across this poem about the stupid things people say to each other after someone dies. * STEALING GRIEF By D. Adam BoazI think thatOne of the things we doWhen someone we know isHurtingIs say things,Because we want...

Memorial Day Speech: Because They Lived

9 Min read Memorial Day Speech Transcript and Video, New Canaan Town Hall Honoring seven New Canaan residents Remembering Hailey Hodsden Remembering the MH-60M Black Hawk #490 crew of the 160th SOAR(A) * Honored Resident Photos at this link * VIDEO OF SPEECH - follow...

“We Lived, Felt Dawn, Saw Sunset Glow”

3 Min read Memorial Day Vietnam War Toolbox: Speech writing and public speaking Creative nonfiction / True story Poetry for Emergencies * Last fall I received a request to be the speaker for Memorial Day. I was surprised and then I let it sink in. Me? The Local VFW...

That Teacher, You Know the One

5 Min read Poetry for Emergencies: E.E. Cummings On music: J.S. Bach Commencement speech * * Let's take a moment for teachers. That teacher, you know the one. Because, I have a confession to make. In the lottery of life and learning, if you're lucky then you have one,...

Meditation on Mother’s Day

4 Min read On mandalas On Kansas City On life in the middle * * It's wet and dreary here. And, in spite of the multitude of Mays that I've lived through, I continue to forget how busy this month is with graduations, weddings, parties. And, funerals. What I want to...

Semper Fidelis

4 Min read On patterns On Vietnam and Memorial Day Operation Frequent Wind 1 Book rec * * We had not met before though we had met in other ways, I suppose. We laughed in short order, having teared up moments before. But, first let me say this. The third time is a...


Inoculate yourself against the absurdity of life with a dose of the best ideas and writing. Always learning with a bit of fun.