The Three Stonecutters


One of the executives at the MegaCorp where I first started my career once shared a story called “The Three Stonecutters”.  It’s a vision & leadership parable, that I still remember 20+ years later.    

You can find a few dozen different versions of it on the internet.  Here’s a version I adapted from several others online:

Once, there were three stone cutters working together on a job.  It was clearly difficult work with heavy, dense rocks that needed to be shaped into highly-honed blocks for the project to come together over many generations.  

A stranger came upon the first stone cutter and asked, “What is it that you’re doing?”  “Cutting this stone into a square. It’s how I spend my days” he said gruffly.  When his day ended, he was happy to get his pay and leave.  His blocks lacked some of the smoothness of the other masons.

The stranger moved on, leaving the first stone cutter to his work. He soon came upon the second stone cutter, who was also working diligently on his own pile of stones. “What are you doing?” asked the stranger, interested to see how this stone cutter would respond.

The second stone cutter stopped to look at the stranger and engage in the conversation. “I’m told that this block will help form a doorway.  I have a loving wife and two wonderful children that count on me.  I work hard to make sure we have what we need and can take time to enjoy each other.” The second stone cutter talked about his children as he shaped a stone into a perfect square.  He enjoyed his work, but looked forward to get home to his family.

Around the outer edge of the site, the stranger saw a third stone cutter who was squatting behind a large carved stone, but staring toward the horizon. The stranger approached this stone cutter and asked, “Pardon me. May I ask what you’re working on?”

“I am building a Cathedral,” responded the third stone cutter without breaking his gaze toward the horizon, and into the future. “It’s going to be the new home for a parish that will be renowned for its generosity and support of the surrounding country.  It will stand for centuries as a place where people can come for sanctuary and assistance in times of need.  My role is small, but I’ve been given an opportunity to leave a lifetime’s legacy.  While the money I receive supports my family, I would volunteer my time if I could to be a part of this important project.” 

The stranger left the building site reflecting on how much a positive purpose and vision contribute to our satisfaction and happiness.

This parable always gets me thinking – “What Cathedrals am I building at work?”  Is your job just “what you do,” or does it inspire you to something greater?  Are you building a legacy that you will be proud of having been a part of?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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