Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Dubai Tower and What We Build In Life

On January 4th, the Burj Dubai, arabic for the Tower of Dubai, was officially opened as the tallest building in the world. The Burj Dubai is 2717 feet tall, 160 stories. It is roughly as tall as the two World Trade Center towers placed one on top of the other. It is a beautiful building, designed by an architect from Chicago.

The Burj Dubai was built at the height of the global real-estate boom. It cost 1.5 billion dollars to build and due to the real estate crash, it is currently mostly empty. With a hotel, apartments and office space, the tower flooded Dubai with more residential and commercial space than the market can possibly bear. This beautiful tower will probably remain mostly empty for years to come.

The Burj Dubai can be a metaphor for pursuing goals in life that ultimately prove empty, like the current tower itself. In the recent terrific film “Up in the Air,” George Clooney works for a firm that a company hires in order to fire its employees. Clooney travels over 250 days a year, going from city to city, company to company, following a script to fire people and “ease their transition.”

As Clooney is alone and has a soul-destroying job, he finds an outlet in another goal, reaching 10 million American Airlines miles, a feat only accomplished by seven other people. When Clooney finally reaches that goal, he receives a special platinum card and a visit from the head pilot of American. Sitting together in first class, Clooney says to the pilot something like: “I’ve been thinking about this moment for years, what I would say to you. But now my mind is empty.”

In a sense, Clooney’s character built his own empty tower, 10 million American Airlines Miles tall, but like the tower in Dubai, it is empty. When we set our goals in life of building higher, acquiring, or hoarding, these material goals may not provide us with the satisfaction that we desire. Even if each of us won the lottery, and could stack up dollars bills in a tower that reached towards the sky, we all know that money does not buy happiness.

If we want to build something, we should not strive for a 160-story skyscraper. Each of us has plenty of work to do to build and strengthen our relationships with family members and friends. If we want to build something, let’s build our communities, seeking to strengthen our town and our connections to others.

The pursuit of material goods and taller buildings is perhaps only a form of self-aggrandizement and it can never provide us with ultimate satisfaction. It is when we shift the focus away from ourselves and to others, to strengthening the bonds of family, to building community and to helping those in need, then we have the potential to build something meaningful and lasting in our lives.

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