If you’re going to work, build an awesome sandcastle

Common: Doing things quickly and sloppily because the outcome is unknown.

Uncommon: I live in Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles – and with this coastal environment comes a unique beach culture and social protocol. But within every human sub-community lurk aspects of a larger behavioral code.  One such example is what, as of this post, I call the ‘Sandcastle Effect.’

[Bear with me on this.]

Every day I run several miles down the beach in the sand, while sporting my peculiar looking Vibram Fivefinger shoes. What’s more peculiar, perhaps, are the remnants (or lack thereof) of the beachgoers’ sandy structures. Some sandcastles boast an impressive existence spanning several days. Others do not.

Why the difference?

Digging into details

This is no scientific act of heroism, but I did recall some elements of my middle school education and began with several hypotheses that, in time, I ruled out:

  1. Timing: It wasn’t the time of year or the time of day (baring the occasional bad weather and mass influxes of beachgoers).
  2. Location: Sand castles in BFE areas (off the beaten path) were outliers. I focused, instead, on the sandcastles in popular locations to retain some continuity.
  3. Size: Bigger castles did appear to earn respect more often, but not enough to overshadow the final variable…

So, what did matter?

The short answer: A passion to create something awesome.

The enduring sandcastles shared an obvious commonality: They were apparent displays of deliberate effort and attention to detail. They were transformations of sand to art – and most people had no desire to destroy them.  In fact, people gladly changed the course of their beachfront strut to avoid spoiling the frail creations. Others stood by in admiration and signaled their friends to take a closer look.  Clearly, they had earned the time, attention, and admiration of the beach community.

With that said, these sandcastles, although impressive, were not textbook works of immaculate design. They were good, not perfect. But perfection was not the benchmark (when you think about it, it rarely is). Yet, these castles were still a recognizable work of awesomeness – and that’s what mattered.

It was the shoddy, slapdash sandcastles that were tackled and trampled first – sometimes within minutes. And it wasn’t just unruly, naïve children spearheading the destruction. People of all ages and backgrounds had no trouble trouncing a mediocre sandcastle to reclaim the valuable real estate.

Beyond the beach

The metaphors for everyday life are numerous.

Mediocre work is:

  • Common – therefore rarely valued
  • Ignored
  • Produced by anyone – thus easily replaceable/expendable and consequently wasteful
  • Wearisome
  • Mass-produced
  • Impersonal
  • Forgotten

Awesome work is:

  • Unique
  • Noticeable – and in many cases can’t be ignored.
  • Valuable – worthy of time and attention.
  • Contagious – worthy of conversation and sharing with friends
  • Creative
  • Thoughtful
  • Inspiring
  • Influential
  • Memorable

So why don’t more people produce awesome work? This is a two-part answer.

Reason #1:

This part is obvious: It takes effort – often over a long period of time as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book, Outliers.

Even though an enormous commitment doesn’t always lead to an awesome outcome, you can’t have an awesome outcome without an enormous commitment.

Hence, the ‘risk’ of wearing your heart on your sleeve and proceeding without the guarantee of success.

Reason #2:

This part is often less discussed: It’s risky. And very few people are willing to put passion into a risky outcome. Doing so is uncommon.

“Risky?” you ask? “How so?” Because ‘awesome’ is not a permit to universal acceptance.

Even awesome sandcastles are still targets of tyrants (just not as many as mediocre ones). But as every linchpin and leader knows, popularity need not be (and should not be) the gauge of awesome work.


There will always be what I call ‘destructivists,’ but the creators, makers, artists, and ‘constructivists’ always have the last laugh. Why? Because you can never completely destroy ‘awesome.’ Awesome work is impactful work that creates an irreversible impression. “A mind, once stretched,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “can never return to its original dimensions.”

This is what makes awesome work so important… even if the work doesn’t reach heights of mass popularity; it’s always legacy work because it leaves permanent and spontaneous “dents in the universe” as Steve Jobs may have put it.

Awesome work may not be cherished by everyone, but it does not alter the fact that it’s undeniably invaluable to someone or some group.

Start building – and do it well

It doesn’t take perfection, top-notch tools or world-class talent to do great work that’s recognizable and appreciated by others. It takes courage in the face of an unknown outcome and commitment of uncommon effort.

Whether you’re a CEO, entrepreneur, employee, parent, coach, artist, teacher, student or anything in between, you have a sandcastle – or many of them – to build.

If you’re going to work, to create something, make it awesome. Do remarkable work. That’s what matters. That’s what creates lasting impact.

In a sea of noise, awesome sandcastles not only stand strong and stand out, they serve as beacons to guide and inspire others to do awesome work too.

So build… the world is waiting.

Your thoughts?

Have you noticed this trend? Have you seen the Sandcastle Effect occur in other areas? Do you agree or disagree?

Stay uncommon,

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