I was in South Dakota last week on a family vacation.  First off, I forget how beautiful South Dakota is and all that it has to offer.  Secondly, there are some really, really humongous carvings there…

Mount Rushmore

The original idea for Mount Rushmore is credited to South Dakota historian Doane Robinson who thought that it would increase tourism (he was a pretty insightful man).  His idea was to carve local famous people into some of the granite mountains of the Black Hills.  In 1924, after working on Stone Mountain, GA, sculptor Gutzon Borglum was brought in to carve the mountain.

Mt. Rushmore

Borglum expanded on the original idea and wanted it to be a National monument that focused on our presidents.  He insisted that his life’s work would not be spent immortalizing regional heroes but insisted that the work demanded a subject national in nature and timeless in its relevance to history.

Borglum started work on Mt. Rushmore in 1927 at the age of 60.  He worked the rest of his life on the mountain.

Borglum died in March of 1941 before the monument was finished.  It took another 6 months of work before the last chisel was put to rest in October 1941.  The carving to this day remains unfinished from the original intent (which was to have much more of Washington’s and Lincoln’s torsos carved into the mountain along with a hall of records built into a cave behind it).

In all, Mount Rushmore took over 14 years to build and had over 400 people working on it.  The faces are roughly 60 feet in height and over 450,000 tons of granite was removed to make the memorial.

Realizing Doane Robinson’s dream, roughly 3 million people visit the monument every year.

Crazy Horse

In 1939, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski received a letter from the Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, asking him if he would be interested in creating a monument that “would [let] the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”  He was intrigued.  After years of scouting for the ideal location, Ziolkowski started work on the Crazy Horse Memorial in 1948.  It would be his main work for the rest of his life.

Crazy Horse

The commemorative is a monument and educational center that is intended to memorialize all the Native American cultures and history.  The memorial is a non-profit 501C organization that does not accept any federal or state aid.  All the money used to build the memorial is from donations and entrance fees.  Ziolkowski died in 1982, but the building of Crazy Horse continues.  The non-profit foundation is run by his widow and 7 of his 10 children are associated with the project.

The memorial is designed on a colossal scale.  The final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet wide by 563 feet high.  All four of Mt. Rushmore’s heads would fit into the head of Crazy Horse.  When it is finished, it will be the largest sculpture in the world.  That being said, it will probably not be done in my lifetime.


So what motivates a person to devote one’s life to an endeavor of such magnitude?

Both Borglum and Ziolkowski were labeled crazy or lunatics in their time.  They both died before they saw their life’s work completed.  They are both memorialized along with their sculptures.

If we look at the 4-Drive Theory as a way to understand their motivation we can start to see what drove these men.

Acquire & Achieve – neither man grew rich carving these mountains. There drive was not about acquiring wealth. They did, however, achieve a sense of grandeur and recognition.  Both men were recruited based on their reputations.  Both men had significant public exposure.  They both were bestowed honors in their lifetime and after words.  They knew that by creating these monuments, they themselves would be memorialized.

Bond & Belong – the arduous task of carving a statue out of a mountain required these men to work long, dangerous hours and years with their crews.  This type of togetherness creates special bonds that only develop when people experience hardships together.  In a sense, the people working on the mountain become their own little family.  This is particularly true when placed in the wilderness of the Black Hills.

Challenge & Comprehend – the challenge of sculpting a mountain had to be one of the main drivers for these two.  The sheer audacity of attempting this was mind boggling. Indeed, both Boglum and Ziolkowski developed new ways of working on the mountains.  Boglum in particular mastered a way of using explosives to carve (they could get blast within four inches of the final surface).  I believe that this drive was particularly strong for both of these men.

Define & Defend – once committed to the idea of what they were going to do, both men had to define their dreams and defend their positions.  Both memorials had controversy surrounding them.  Both had to deal with people dismissive of their goals and aspirations.

However, I don’t think that the 4-Drive Theory can fully explain these two men’s motivations.  It is the one fault that I think the theory has.  The 4-Drive Theory does not account for the drive that a passion for something larger than oneself inspires.

I would argue that these men believed that what they were doing was larger than themselves – that in carving these monuments, they were helping the world be a better place.  Borglum stated when he found Mt. Rushmore, “Here is the place!  American history shall march along the skyline.”  Ziolkowski made the mission of Crazy Horse to “protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of the North American Indians.”

It is this passion to something greater than oneself that I think drives some of the most creative and most endearing work that people do.

What would you dedicate your life’s work to?

This was a question that I asked myself on the 11 hour drive home from South Dakota.  Was there something that I could become so passionate about that it would fuel me for the rest of my life?   Is there an idea or a cause that would inspire me enough to do until the day I died?

I’m still thinking on that.

Do you have an answer?  If so, please share it with us in the comments section.