I was walking the beach with a friend when we came upon a sandcastle under siege. The ocean was sending wave after wave to destroy the defenseless fortress. Each wave surging ever-closer. The sandcastle would soon be erased from the face of the Earth. Its only crime was daring to stand in defiance of the mighty ocean. Something had to be done.

I immediately dropped to my knees in front of the castle and started building a defensive wall to hold back the tide. My friend just stood gaping, but soon enlisted in the cause.

The waves… they just they kept coming; relentless in their assault on our wall. Whole sections at a time were lost. We frantically repaired, extended, and reinforced it. It was Incredibly arduous work.

Our desperate quest captured the attention of a few other beach walkers. They watched as the battle raged. The intensity of the waves increased. Holes opened up. We were losing.

I called out for help. “We can save it! We just need more hands!” At first they laughed, but before long they were all drawn in, desperately slapping handfuls of sand on the wall—wholeheartedly committed to saving the castle. And for a time the castle was saved.

I’d like to report that we prevailed in the end, but sadly the ocean defeated us that day.

This experience raised a couple big questions for me:

1) Why did these strangers labor so wholeheartedly on this impossible task?

2) Why aren’t people’s hearts and minds engaged like that more often at work?

I found an article published on Harvard Business Review, by Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Brynn Harrington, and Adam Grant that I believe explains what happened that day on the beach.

In the article they state, “Our data suggest that people are very clear on what they want at work — and they fundamentally want the same things. When it comes to an ideal job, most of us are looking for a career, a community, and a cause.”

  • Career is about work: having a job that provides autonomy, allows you to use your strengths, and promotes your learning and development. It’s at the heart of intrinsic motivation.”
  • “Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by others. It drives our sense of connection and belongingness.”
  • “Cause is about purpose: feeling that you make a meaningful impact, identifying with the organization’s mission, and believing that it does some good in the world. It’s a source of pride.”

These three factors were all there that day, and it resulted in an extraordinary experience.

When career, community, and cause are present (as defined above), we give our all; when they’re not, we don’t.

Feature image by rufus.kahler