What four faces in a rock can teach us about dreaming BIG!

Dreaming big

What four faces in a rock can teach us about dreaming BIG!


This past summer… we visited Mt. Rushmore.

It wasn’t my first time to this incredible national monument, but I have to say that I connected with it at a deeper level this go around.

Why? Well, I dug into the story behind it.

And… I have to say… that it’s one of our country’s greatest BIG DREAM stories.


It started in the mind of a 66-year-old South Dakota native… Doane Robinson. He wasn’t a sculptor. He wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t wildly wealthy. BUT… he had an audacious vision. That was to build a “monument of gigantic proportions” to the great heroes of western history in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Now… if you visit South Dakota today… that doesn’t seem too outlandish because it’s a tourist mecca with all sorts of vacation destinations… from classy to kitchy. But in the 1930’s… this area was limited to old mining towns connected by rough old logging roads. It was beautiful but for the most part… uninhabited. However… Mr. Robinson had a “Build it and they will come” attitude and he set out to make this dream happen.

So here’s a question for you… what’s one of your big dreams? Does it seem a little crazy? Does it seem a little audacious?

Is it a dream at work? Do you want to try something new? Do you want to improve a system or change a process?

Or… is your dream for your community? Would you love to give back or inspire those in your town to come together to do something bigger?

Or… is it a dream for your family or friends?

Does the dream seem TOO big… or just a little nuts?

Good. We might just be on the right track.


Now, as I mentioned… Robinson wasn’t a sculptor and he wasn’t a politician, but he knew he was going to need both to see this big dream through.

So, first off, he sought out Peter Norbeck, then a U.S. Senator from South Dakota, and pitched him on the idea of the monument… and the vision for bringing people to the area. Norbeck began to believe in the dream too. He started to spread this audacious idea around Washington D.C.

Now, if you’ve ever stood at the foot of Mt. Rushmore, it’s hard to believe that someone would push back on such a profound tribute. But Norbek and Robinson received way more push back than they did support.

People thought that the idea was too expensive. Others thought that it would be “a desecration of God’s own creation” to cut into a mountain. Still others thought it was just plan nuts to go to such work to put a monument in a place that no one seemed to live… let alone visit.

Even though there was tremendous opposition and misunderstanding, Norbek and Robinson pushed on. Their next step? To find an audacious sculptor that would be up to the challenge. Enter… Gutzon Borglum.

Borglum was the son of Danish immigrants who had come to the U.S. to pursue their dreams. He had grown up loving the U.S. and U.S. history. At the time Robinson reached out to him, he was already a sculptor of note. In fact, when he was first contacted, he was working on a similar project on the East Coast that was to be a monument to honor the heroes of the Civil War. Just as a side note… that project never reached completion but I personally think it’s interesting that this incompleted project is the very thing that caught Robinson’s attention.

So here’s a few questions for you to ponder…

  • Who do you need to surround yourself with in order to make your big dreams happen? So often… when we start to develop a big dream… we start think we can’t accomplish it… because it seems impossible. Well… sometimes it IS impossible if we set out to do it on our own. Maybe it’s that we need to involve others that have different skills and passions than we do. Maybe it’s that we need to get others on board and share the dream… in order to make it happen. This can be hard because we sometimes have to give up some of the control… or credit… but with BIG dreams… enlisting the help of others is usually required… but often forgotten step.
  • Also… and this is a little audacious to think about too… but what if some of your failed attempts… were the very things that set you up for walking out some of your biggest goals and dreams? Some might say that Borglum was a “failure” because the Civil War monument didn’t happen… but he would have told you that “failed” project simply set him up to be a part of one of the most important accomplishments of his generation. What if some of your “failed” attempts were the very things that were going to set you up for your BIG dreams in the future?


Originally, the idea was to sculpt the historical figures into the stone needles that exist in the Black Hills of South Dakota. But as Borglum visited the area… he quickly found that those stone needles would not stand the test of time once sculpted. So, they changed gears and began to look for a rock face that would be large enough for the project… as well as… be made of the right kind of stone to be able to withstand the riggers of both sculpting and the South Dakota elements.

After a year of searching… they decided upon… the rock that was known as Mt. Rushmore.

Now… I love that they had to search for the right rock and if you visit it now… the choice is obvious. There are beautiful and quaint little vacation towns all around. There’s a majestic welcome center with a multi-level parking lot. There’s a book store and gourmet restaurant at the foot of the mountain.

BUT… at the time… there were no roads leading to this spot. There were old (and sometimes) abandoned mining towns close by. They just knew and they just had to believe enough for themselves and for everyone else.

Another element of having to adapt and use what they had… was… sculptors.

As you can imagine… this was a project that was way too big for just one sculptor to complete. So, Borglum was going to need help. But, as you can also imagine, there weren’t too many sculptors in this part of the country. However… what there were plenty of was… out-of-work miners.

Now to some… these tough and “uncultured” men would be the last people you would want to enlist to create a monument of lasting beauty and tribute.

Borglum didn’t see them this way, however. Nope. He saw men who were grateful for the work. He saw men who weren’t afraid to work hard. He saw men who already knew how to handle dynamite. He saw men who would be willing to learn.

So… that’s what he did. Borglund took a rag tag team of miners… and turned them into sculptors.

How could we learn from this approach? So often… when we hatch a new dream or begin to set a new goal… we are quick to see the things we don’t have… instead of the things we do have. Or when we come up against a change… like realizing the Needles wouldn’t work for your monument… we’re tempted to walk away from our goal or dream all together.

  • How could we be bolstered from Borglum’s approach and adaptability… today?
  • How could you use this mindset to take one small but significant step towards that big audacious dream or goal of yours… today?


Borglum and his men worked hard. They worked long days hanging by bosun chairs. They drilled. They chipped. They dynamited. They climbed. They repelled. They withstood the elements. They risk their lives… daily.

But they also had a baseball team. And… apparently… they were pretty good.

In fact, my wife Melissa happened to meet one of these miners-turned-sculptors in the Mount Rushmore book store while we were there. (He is one of last living members of Borglum’s team… and he was there for a book signing.) When Melissa asked him why he thought he was hired… he got a sheepish grin. Then he said, “Well, I wasn’t that good of a miner but Mr. Borglum heard I was a pretty good baseball player and he needed a pitcher for his team.”

I know this is simple but it’s also something we forget to do. We get busy and forget to have a little fun along the way.

  • What’s something you can do to inject a little fun in your big dream pursuit today?
  • What’s something you can do to have a little fun with your team at work?
  • What’s something you can do with your family to have a little fun as you take a step towards that big dream? Heck, maybe you’re saving for a dream vacation and things a little tight in the “family fun budget.” What’s something cheap but fun that you could do this weekend? A trip to the park? A board game? A $1 movie from Redbox and everyone gets to pick a favorite candy to munch on?


There are a number of other behind the scenes stories with Mount Rushmore that offer a lot more inspiration for our own big dream pursuits… so be watching for those in the come weeks.But for now… I’ll simply leave you with some questions to inspire some of your own audacious big dreams today…

  • What are a few of your own big dreams… audacious or not?
  • Who could be some people that could come around you to help make them happen? (What if it helped them to achieve some of their own big dreams… to help you with yours?)
  • What if some of your past “failures” could be the very things that set you up for your future successes with your big dream journey?
  • What if there are hidden resources around you that are like the sculptors who were disguised as out-of-work-miners?
  • How can you inject a little fun into your work… and your big dream pursuit today?

Lastly… and I’d ask you to comment with this question… which national monuments… works of art… or other tributes have inspired you to dream and think a little bigger? What was it that inspired you? I’d love to hear from you on this! So click comments and join in the conversation!

Thanks for dreaming BIG and helping others to do the same,

Mitch Matthews

1 Comment
  • Pingback:Training to be a life coach: How you can use a story to help your client move forward!
    Posted at 10:16h, 24 September Reply

    […] For example, my family and I recently went to South Dakota and while we were there… we visited Mount Rushmore. It wasn’t our first visit to this incredible monument but it is the first time I really dug into the story behind it. And the more I heard about it’s creation… the more I wanted to know. (I blogged about the behind the scenes story of Mount Rushmore recently, you can click here to hear … […]

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