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st-basils-cathedral-moscow-aThe architect Postnik Yakovlev looked up at the newly completed St. Basil’s Cathedral, undeniably his greatest achievement – so far. The bright afternoon sunlight burnished the church’s eight onion domes; their glow made complete the building’s resemblance to a glorious bonfire, stretching towards heaven.

Yakovlev suddenly felt a strong hand clasp his shoulder, and the man standing next to him said vigorously, “Postnik, this is amazing! It is the most elegant construction the world has ever seen.”

Yakovlev nodded respectfully and carefully considered his response. This was, after all, his boss, Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of All the Russias, the absolute ruler who had commissioned the building of this house of worship to commemorate his slaughter of 100,000 enemies in a great military victory. It was always wise not to offend him.

“Thank you, Your Majesty. I am pleased you find my work acceptable.”

“You are too modest! Only you could have imagined something this splendid! And, I tell you, I cannot imagine ever seeing a building more beautiful than this one.”

Yakovlev allowed himself a slight smile, and said, “Well, perhaps you may, Sire. I have learned much from this project, and I am even now preparing grand plans for both a citadel and a cathedral in the captured city of Kazan.”

“Yes, I am aware,” said Ivan, dismissively. “But, no, I do not want anything to outshine St. Basil’s. I am thinking of preventing you from attempting it. Permanently.”

Ivan’s grip on Yakovlev’s shoulder tightened, and Yakovlev felt the blood drain from his face. “Sire, do you mean to . . . execute me?”

“What? Execute you? Nonsense!” the Tsar bellowed, laughing and then slapping Yakovlev hard on the back. “Ho ho, Postnik, you make beautiful buildings, and you make me laugh. Why would I execute you?”

“Whew. Thank you, Sire.”

“I am considering having your eyes removed, but execute? Bah! Do not worry about that!”

* * *

Did it really happen that way? Almost certainly not; historians believe that Postnik Yakovlev continued to design and build new structures, even after Ivan’s death in 1584. But for centuries, legend had it that Ivan the Terrible did indeed blind the architect after the completion of St. Basil’s Cathedral, so that Yakolev could never duplicate or exceed its beauty elsewhere. And people believed it, not just because it made Ivan seem suitably Terrible, I think, but also because people all over understand what it feels like to be seen only as an expendable asset, to be employed or depleted solely to suit an employer’s needs.

If you accept as part of your job the feeling that your terrible boss is cutting away little pieces of you – your energy, your ideas, your health, your inspiration – remember the legend of Postnik Yakovlev, and all he would have lost had his employer taken his sight from him. Even if you think you can put up with the day-to-day slights and burdens that interfere with fulfillment now, consider the possibility that you might be losing some of the attributes and assets that you would need to achieve fulfillment later. In the long run, you don’t want either your eyes or your spirit to be burned out.