Brick by Brick: 2019 Motto & Lessons from Lego Building


For many years now, I have chosen a personal motto in the new year to guide my thinking and actions. I didn’t have a motto last year, as I was working through painful losses and challenges as the year closed. This past December, I finally had an experience of “I feel like I have myself back… or at least more of myself.” One of the biggest lessons in 2018 for me was about recalibrating my internal scales. One scale in particular has to do with my expectations of myself (and likely, others). To me, it feels like I’m “still” rebuilding from a big emotional injury that “happened soooo long ago” and I need to “get over it.”

Of course, I wouldn’t actually think this for other people…I’m supposed to be special and remarkable and prove how amazing I am at healing. Ha! I’m learning there that toxicity came from and working through it…Therefor, this year’s motto is going to “still” be about rebuilding…brick by brick.

Last month, I spent a much more time thinking about and playing with Lego than I have spent in quite a few years. Here are some lessons I learned from two boys, ages 5 and 6, who gave me the honour of re-engaging in Lego:

  1. Play! Don’t just tidy up.

    I was “playing” with a boy while his parents worked on their taxes. But really, I was searching for Lego pieces and re-sorting them by colour as I went along. After what I think was a remarkable amount of time, which demonstrated this young boy’s patience, he said, “I thought we are supposed to be playing with Lego, not tidying Lego.” I just about laughed out loud. I was confronted so beautifully by this lovely child. He was absolutely right. I wasn’t playing Lego…Playing meant building with him….yes, part of that was looking for pieces to help him build his model but I’m sure he would have rather I built a companion runway for his helicopter or told an imaginative story about the people.

    Play with the building blocks of life and play while you are building. Don’t just tidy up.

  2. Find the exact piece that fits. Or don’t, and settle for a close enough piece.

    I was amazed how important it was to find the right piece in the right colour, to make a model. When I would find the right piece in a different colour, I wanted it to work because it would save me from looking through hundreds of Lego pieces for the right one. But when I looked at his model and the picture on the instructions I thought…you know, I, too, would be “picky”. I am just as detail oriented. And when I really tried and the kid tried and we both tried again and we couldn’t find the right piece….we made do.
    Sometimes a close enough fit is good enough.

  3. Show off your completed projects.
    Have a place to display what you’ve created! Tell a story about it. Show people who will be excited with you. Remember they are there but also, keep building.

  4. Follow instructions AND be avant garde.
    The Lego team has developed some really cool models. Young kids can follow directions and build amazing things on their own. They learn to count, learn engineering basics, develop fine motor skills, etc. And…when all the pieces end up in one bucket and you are done with the pre-fab models, you can build your own structure using your imagination. Imagination is a key part of reality. There may be some instructions to building a life, but be imaginative with the raw material and how you piece things together.

  5. Leave pieces everywhere. Except when it might hurt someone or get in the way.

    The nature of Lego is that it gets everywhere. Kids leave it everywhere and pieces are so tiny they magically disappear. I’m beginning to think that is part of leaving things “in progress”. Kids can leave things incomplete and move on to the next. Sometimes, that’s necessary. Giving space to a project and returning to it. Leaving the materials out reminds you of your project and allows you to pick it up where you left off.
    When leaving the pieces around become a danger or burden, to you or others, then maybe it’s time to reassess what you have, organize, recycle, donate, or put away some materials…For me, one of my building blocks is a journal. I have journals everywhere. I can’t be left without something to write on. But then…I stopped remembering where I wrote things. So now, I try to have 1-3 journals, each with a different purpose, and I’m okay with mixing the purpose of a journal (gasp!).
    Also…leave metaphorical pieces around…for me, this means questions or issues I’m working through. Sometimes there are existential questions that take over my mind and I plough through books and feverishly journal and thumb through old journals and watch videos…and the washing and laundry builds up, I’m living on pasta and toast, and you can barely see my floor. Eventually this gets burdensome but I’m learning, it’s okay. Coming full circle, it’s okay not to be tidy. If you are playing, life gets messy.

Minh Dang