I’ve always found it fascinating what people do for a living. There are so many jobs and tasks out there, you can hardly imagine all the possibilities. But I also find it fascinating how people describe their jobs. How do they perceive their own work?
There’s an oft-told parable about three stone masons, or bricklayers, working on the building of a great cathedral. A traveler arrived in town, toured the exterior, and witnessed the construction.
Seeing a stone mason, he stopped and asked, “What are you doing?” This first mason answered simply, “I’m laying bricks.”
Turning a corner, the traveler saw a second stone mason and asked the same question: “What are you doing?” This second mason answered, “I’m erecting a wall.”
Moving on, the traveler spotted a third stone mason and asked again, “What are you doing?” This time, the third mason straightened his spine, beamed with pride, and responded, “What am I doing, sir? I am building a cathedral.”
I suspect the third stone mason experienced far more job satisfaction. He believed himself to be contributing to something big, beautiful, and lasting.
When writers get asked about their job, the easiest answer is simply “I write books.” It’s straightforward, understandable, accurate. However, many writers see it more deeply. Ask them what they do for a living, and you might get answers like:
- I make up lies for a living, and people love me for it.
- I weave imaginary worlds and invite others to join me there.
- I create fictional characters, then make readers care about what happens to them.
- I use to stories to inspire people to believe in love, justice, and goodness.
When I’m asked what I do, I usually answer, “I write teen novels.” That’s the crux of it. But…I have a different version in my head. Because what I see myself as doing is more like building a cathedral — contributing to something bigger, more beautiful, and lasting.
I tell stories that encourage teens to recognize they’re stronger than they think they are, that humor can get you through a lot in life, and that doing the right thing — however difficult — is the best thing for your heart and for your soul. I write books, but I hope they mean something to my readers.
Even if it’s just a fun story that gives them an escape for a weekend, that’s a goal worth pursuing as well. I think very highly of those authors who have brought me genuine smiles and made me laugh.
I hope teens also view what they do in life now, and in the future, as big, beautiful, and lasting. Because I know it truly can be. But a lot depends on your perspective.
How do you define what you do? Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral? What does that look like for you?