Castle-Building 101

A couple of years ago, I read Pillars of the Earth in which the main character was a stone mason, building a cathedral that would not likely be completed in his lifetime.  Back in the twelfth century, this was about par for the course; it was standard that a project of such magnitude would easily take decades, if not longer, to complete.  

The village of Puycelsi - built of stones & mortar

Puycelsi, France: an entire village built from stones

Whether it be a cathedral or a castle or a walled village, the enormity of such an undertaking really struck me the first time I laid eyes on the medieval European village of Puycelsi (pronounced Pwee-Cell-SEE), in the south of France.  During my stay in this beautiful village, I contemplated the unwavering commitment to – and vision of – the end result that would have to be held in mind for a project of such magnitude, if the motivation to continue working at such a (seemingly never-ending) task were to be sustained.

The Tower - every single stone, laid by hand

Every single stone, laid by hand, one by one…

Every stone of every building and every cobblestoned road inside this village would have been laid by hand….imagine the enormity of such an undertaking!

Guess what?  A project like this is the perfect analogy for your life and your dreams.

Last week I asked you what personal legacy you were working toward.  Whether you’re aware of it or not, every day that you’re alive, you are adding a proverbial ‘stone’ to the walls of your life’s castle.  You’re a dream mason.  The legacy you want to create might be of the magnitude of this medieval village (or maybe it only feels that big), so how do you get from idea to implementation when it comes to your big dreams?    

You guessed it: one stone at a time.

Granted, I haven’t personally built an actual stone-and-mortar castle, but I think we’d both agree that as a castle-builder, you’d start with some kind of idea about the end result you want to create.  You’d consider what overall size of castle you wanted to end up with (I mean really: how many hours do you want to spend cleaning every week?).  You’d think about how many – and what kinds – of rooms you’d want, based on your intended use of the space (frequent out-of-town guests = extra bedrooms.  Big dinner parties = a large dining room table.  Quiet family gatherings = maybe a cozy room with comfy couches and a fireplace).  And let’s not forget about location, location, location:  where do you want to build your castle, and how mobile do you want to be?

Once you’ve got the main desired features identified, you’d put pencil to paper and draw some plans for your castle.  You’d sketch a rough layout, draw lines and then erase them, adjusting and re-drawing over and over until you felt satisfied enough to move ahead.  With life and dreams though, because they’re a lot more fluid and adaptable than a physical stone-and-mortar structure, don’t get too caught up in having the drawing perfect before you begin the construction phase.  In life and in dreamsmithing, it’s through action and real-life experimentation that you best hone and define how you want things to look.  (Read Michael Masterson’s book Ready, Fire, Aim if you want some guidance on not getting stuck in the design phase.  Or at least keep that book title in mind as you proceed.)

Drafted plans in hand, you’d then start building, and adjust as you go.  Perhaps you’d decide, halfway through construction, that you’d like an extra window in that vestibule, or a partial instead of a full wall between your kitchen and your pantry, or a more prominent mantel above the hearth.  Certain things can be tweaked as you go with a stone-and-mortar castle, and even more things can be tweaked as far as your life and your dreams are concerned.

One stone at a time.  It’s the way every project – big or small – gets done.  

And here’s a dream mason’s secret for you:  begin each morning by holding the vision in your mind’s eye of what you want your end result to look like, and use your imagination to feel the feelings you’d have once you’re standing in the reality of that creation.  Then infuse those end-result feelings into your daily activities, today.  

Anytime you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do in order to get to your ‘end result’, just focus on which stone you need to lay today.  Today, one single stone laid solidly in place is all you have to think about.  Instead of staring wide-eyed at the massive pile of rocks beside you, pick one up and lay it in place to the best of your ability.  Tomorrow, pick another one up and do the same thing.  Follow this procedure daily (remembering to use the dream mason’s secret) and one day you’ll wake up to find yourself standing in the lovingly and diligently crafted castle of your dreams.

So, my fellow dream mason…which stone are you laying for your castle today?

4 thoughts on “Castle-Building 101

  1. Good Morning Kelley
    It is always such a joy to find in you in my inbox. Of and a photo of our special French village. Mmm ” One stone at a time” . Must remember that as I leave the safety of my 30 year teaching career and jump into the unkown. Thankyou for your inspiration.

    • Oh Amanda, it’s always a joy to see YOUR name in MY inbox (and/or here in the comments)! And knowing you and your intentions as I do, I also know that you’ll be amazing at whatever you choose to do next, so long as you follow your heart and use your head (which I know you always do). I already am a big fan of yours, so I’m looking forward to seeing what you bring to life next. Go girl! Look what Puycelsi started! 🙂

  2. Great article and wisdom Kelly! Perfectly suited for this chapter in my life…. It’s as if you wrote me a personal letter 😉 Seriously… you tapped just about every one of my weaknesses….. ahem… improvement areas. Feeling a little transparent right now… it’s all good.

    There is soooooo much to be said about the “one brick” philosophy, from conquering fear to being in the present.

    I chronically freak out by focusing on the big picture, fortunately there are teachers such as yourself who have shared the tools to help us “overthinker types” deal with it.

    “Ready, Aim, Fire” has also been challenge for me… always wanting things to be perfect is another excuse procrastination.

    Thanks for validating the visualizing aspect of the building process…. it’s one of my favorite escapes.


    • Hey Paul, I too have plenty of ‘freak out’ moments and am pretty sure I’ve won the Overthinkers Anonymous award for maybe a decade straight. I wouldn’t have learned these lessons without going through some stuff myself. A LOT of stuff, actually. We live, we learn…and we share. Keep laying those stones!

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