Can you dig it?

It’s school holidays here in Sydney, and I’ve been lucky enough to take some time off in between projects to enjoy them with the family.  While the weather hasn’t exactly screamed “Let’s go to the beach!“, it’s certainly been great for some of the drought-stricken state.  It was on a rare gap between squalls that we snuck in a trip to Balmoral, and it was knee-deep in the moat of a glorious sand castle, when it struck me….

Building sand castles is a lot like work, and turns out, a lot like life as well.

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cfb1d43795f6c0e200e0a63c72645a89--number-hand-lettering-tattoo-number-fonts Have a goal

top-castelo-com-a-bandeira-esboco_318-42079  Are you building a huge hole just to capture water and sit in it like your own private swimming pool?

top-castelo-com-a-bandeira-esboco_318-42079  Are you building a spectacular castle and trying to protect it with a moat and high walls?

top-castelo-com-a-bandeira-esboco_318-42079  Are you burying a member of your family neck deep and looking for that perfect family holiday pic?

All three are perfectly sound goals, but unless you decide which of these is your objective, all you’ll end up doing is flinging sand around the joint and possibly drowning Nanna.

The impact of not having a goal is also particularly obvious in the workplace.  You can tell leaders (well, leaders without goals are managers) who have no solid objective, mission, or even a general direction in which they wish to travel.  You’ll see there’s lots of busy work, lots of furious digging, and lots of walls collapsing….

There’s a huge difference between having a goal and having a plan.  Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the same concept, but that’s a discussion for another day.

There’s nothing wrong with having a plan.  Plans are great.  But goals are better.  Goals survive when plans fail, and plans almost always fail
– Seth Godin

Spend time determining your goals.  It’ll galvanise you, and it’ll galvanise your team.

If you’re having trouble working out what your goals are, I suggest taking a look at the book The subtle art of not giving a f*ck by Mark Manson.  It’s a great how-to guide on working out what to give a sh!t about and is highly recommended.


2 Choose the right tools

Choosing the right tools is critical.  Sure, your hands are OK for digging, plastic spades are good as well, but if you want optimum digging, buy yourself a proper shovel.  When you choose the wrong tools, every job is a chore.  Choose the right tools though, and any job is a pleasure.


3  Nothing lasts forever

By the time the sun sets and you’ve finally brushed the last of the sand off your legs, there’ll be nothing left of your castle, or your moat, or even Nanna if you’ve forgotten to dig her out….

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never beat Mother Nature.  You could always build your castle waaaaaay up past the hide tide line, but that’s not what sand castles are for.  Besides, either some punk kid will deliberately kick it over, a King Tide will come and destroy it anyway, or a dog will hang a huge dump on the top of it and ruin the ‘beach outlook‘ feel you were going for.

The same applies at work.  While the satisfaction of building out of concrete and steel is certainly real, even a structure designed to last 100 years will eventually fall down, or be pulled down.

Remembering that nothing lasts forever – including you – is only depressing because you’re thinking about it wrong.  Take a look at this short video by Ryan Holiday for an introduction to momento mori.  Spend some time reflecting on it, and you’ll find prioritising and setting goals so much easier.

Don’t get me wrong, leaving a legacy is important, but please make sure you’re leaving behind something that matters.


4  Set your foundations strong and early

My Top Tip for building sand castles is simple.  Bulk a fu**ing huge amount of sand as quickly as possible into a alarmingly large pile and compact it by whacking it with the back of your  shovel.  This will do two things – give you a sense of accomplishment seeing both a big hole and big pile of sand, and it’ll also go a long way to holding back the waves while you create your masterpiece.

It’s also the same when you build a real bridge.  Substructure works go first, and when your piles, pile caps, piers and abutments are on song, the rest follows suit.

On weak foundations ne’er a bridge did stand.



5  Maintenance is critical

There’s certainly pleasure in building another level to your castle, or smoothing out the ramparts, but when the never relenting waves start lapping at the walls and you forgo ongoing maintenance, there’ll be nothing left to maintain, simple as that.

The same goes for life outside sand castles.  If you want things to last, and to thrive, maintenance is key.

Maintain your body, maintain your mind, maintain your team, maintain your house, maintain your relationships, maintain your work.  Don’t neglect the things you value most and they’ll take care of you longer than you could ever have imagined.

It takes many forms but without maintenance you’ll end up with nothing but a hump of sand-shaped regret.


6  The idea is to have fun

It’s a fairly simple maxim really.  Sand castle building, even in those obscure competitions, is meant to be fun.

We have a mantra in our house.  A little something we made up which we thought might help the kids maintain a healthy outlook on life.  We ask the kids two simple questions:

“What’s the most important thing?”
“Be happy.”

“And what do we do?”
“Work hard and have fun.”

Sure it sounds a little like something from The Pursuit of Happyness but hey, it seems to work.

Teams who have fun are successful.  Try this little exercise — remember back to the best project you’ve ever worked on…..

I bet what you’re remembering now are the people you worked with, the great experiences you shared.  You’re also remembering the times that made you smile, rather than the long hours, the monthly cost reviews with Corporate, did I mention the long hours….

Work hard at making everything you do fun.  Make no mistake, it’s hard work, but ultimately will make all the difference.


7  Build something amazing and people will come

I’m not talking Field of Dreams.  I’m saying when you’ve dug a huge hole, built a fantastically large castle, and are putting up a good show of holding back the tide, people can’t help but stop, smile, and say hello.  Try it – it’s a great way for the kids to meet other kids when you’re on holiday.

It’s a lot like building a strong team – people are naturally drawn to a high performance outfit.  Build something great and I promise you they’ll come.  It’ll be slow at first, but as word spreads that you’re part of a group of people that gets sh!t done, enjoys themselves, and has an outstanding work ethic, you’ll attract more of the very best.

Planning phase and setting out the foundations

So the next time you’re at the beach, knee-deep in a moat, or basking in a teeny tiny swimming pool, or feverishly applying the finishing touches to Nanna, take a step back and marvel at the simple parallels to work and life from digging a sand castle.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Have you got any castle-building tips?  Are there parallels to life and work you’ve observed while doing everyday activities?  Leave a comment below or get in touch via the Contact Page.

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