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Learn to LEGO

The past few months have been a struggle. I’ve been worrying about making the wrong decisions, wondering about my future, pondering what ifs; flip-flopping on either side of the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi flow chart, oscillating between anxiety and boredom, unable to tap into that funnel of healthy obsession I normally relied upon to make it through the week.

The activities that traditionally provided me with satisfaction—reading, running, writing—haven’t been cutting it, lately. They’ve felt like work rather than fun, and none of them diminished my concerns. I realized I needed something formative, fundamental, protoplasmic; something almost childish to alleviate my adulthood funk.

It turned out my solution slept dormant in the basement: A Rubbermaid bucket full of LEGO.

LEGO was my earliest obsession. The first set I owned was a red fire truck, part of the inaugural 1978 series that introduced minifigs in all their smiley-faced glory. I remember following the illustrated instructions, step by step, and witnessing a pile of seemingly random pieces coalesce into a purpose-driven fire-fighting machine. The thing that really sold me on the truck was its doors—not only were they decorated with flame-flicker stickers, but they even opened and closed. The attention to detail was top notch. Even as a four-year old, I knew that I had been introduced to something special.

More sets followed, mostly spaceships. My prized possession was the Galactic Explorer, and I treasure its pair of blue LL928 bricks to this day. But it was my cousin who opened me up to the true power of LEGO bricks: The power to make anything I wanted! Below his lofted wooden bed was an enormous lunar landscape with outposts and rockets and landers that I had never seen in toy stores. They had come from his imagination.

The next night, I took apart the Galactic Explorer. I took apart the other spaceships. I even took apart the fire truck. I spread all the pieces out on the floor, and I lost myself in creativity.

I carried on like that through high school. I’d build spaceships I admired from television, like the USS Enterprise or the Battlestar Galactica. I’d build Transformers like the heroic Optimus Prime or the evil Megatron. I’d build and renovate constructs of my own conception, such as the robot Defender or the space fighter Blue Coyote. I’d build with my brother and my friends. I’d build into the wee hours of the night, and when my parents told me to turn out the light, I’d stuff a pair of jeans beneath my bedroom door and sift through the LEGO pile with quiet intensity, looking for those final few pieces to complete my masterpiece.

But the obsession wouldn’t last forever.

Once I went off to college, I deemed LEGO bricks as childish. The years went by. I’d still get the occasional stocking-stuffer from my parents, motivated by nostalgia. I even convinced myself to purchase and build an X-Wing Fighter, but again, nostalgia. I followed the instructions, now. I’d forgotten what my cousin had taught me. I’d forgotten their true power.

So as a last resort to escape my current state of mind, I convinced myself to retrieve the bucket of childhood bricks from my basement. I spread them out on the kitchen table. I imagined a spaceship of my own design, and I set about creating it.

One piece led to another. Time slipped away. Worries slipped away. When my girlfriend told me I should probably go to bed, I closed the kitchen curtain and sifted through the pile with quiet intensity. What resulted was a masterpiece: The F-43 Dragonfly.

Of course, this time I came out of the experience with more than a kickin’ spaceship. Adulthood, despite its worries and concerns, also offers wisdom, and dare I say, blog-worthy meta-experiences. No offense to Forrest Gump, but I realized how much life is really more like a bucket of LEGO: You may only be offered so many pieces, but you can build what you want with them. You don’t need to follow the instructions, you can create your own spaceship. And if you can’t find the exact piece you’re hoping for, you may stumble across a different piece in your bucket, a workaround, with the potential to create something even better than what you originally envisioned.

There is no need to worry. There is no wrong piece, no wrong decision, no wrong result. There are merely possibilities. And if you trust yourself, you will build a masterpiece.

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