Thursday, April 10, 2014

What are you building?

I don't know about you, but there are certain things that happened in my family growing up that have developed legendary status. Events, occasions, mishaps which we've told and re-told over the years, things which we continue to feel deeply about. One of these events happened before I was born, in the mid 1970s, but so strong have been its after effects that I feel like I was there. 

It's the story of when my oldest brother won a Lego building competition. 

Lego was a big part of our childhood. I credit it as the reason I've become a professional engineer. For at least a decade we had 'the heap' in our sitting room. The Heap was a pile of toys which just got pushed into the corner at the end of the day. I remember it mainly being Lego. Another legendary family story was when one day, out of the blue, there was a knock at the door and an older boy gave us his own huge box of Lego (they were emigrating, but we didn't know that, we thought it might be a semi usual occurrence, leading to a life of disappointment when every ring of the doorbell WASN'T a huge box of Lego).

Now, as I wasn't actually there, I'm sketchy on the exact details of the Lego competition win, but suffice to say that my brother's winning entry was displayed in the shop for a while, he probably even won a small amount of Lego (no doubt eventually assimilated into The Heap). The main thing was the kudos he earnt with my other siblings and his peers - kind of superhero status, tempered with grudging jealousy that my other brother and sister's entries weren't deemed prize-winning. We're a fairly competitive family anyway, so from then on, building things with Lego was a serious matter. As a side note, even though I've not ever won any Lego competitions myself, I do think I'm pretty handy when it comes to building Lego spaceships, something I hope I can pass on to my own kids! (We're still at the duplo stage though, which has more limited spaceship building potential).

In a recent post I talked about our 'daily Lego', our lives being the accumulations of individual moments and days lived well (or not), which leads onto this week's question: what are you building? Building things with Lego is a serious subject, but we've all been given lives with which to do something glorious.

I heard a good joke recently (well I thought it was anyway). It goes like this: five frogs are sitting on a log, four decide to jump in, how many frogs are left on the log? Of course, the answer we'd like to say is one, but in this case that's incorrect. The answer in the joke is five, because thinking and doing aren't the same thing. Now you may be groaning, but it's a good point I think - it's all very well having big dreams, and many of us have, but arguably what's the point of having the big dreams if they just stay there and we never build them into something real?

I'm not intending to induce a guilt trip here, and one of the most freeing pieces of advice I was ever given was by a friend and pastor shortly after starting work. As I was beating myself up that I didn't have the same time to do things that I did when was a student, he set me free, telling me not to expect to achieve all the things I felt God had planned for my life in the next five years! Whilst we have a lifetime to achieve our life's work (whatever that may be), at the same time it can be easy for our dreams to become bow-waves, always being pushed further forward into the future and some mythical perfect time. Or for us to start out, get knocked back, lose our confidence, wrap our dreams in tissue paper and put them back into the box under the bed. 

I had a friend at school who had lots of motivational sayings which helped him through his GCSEs and A-Levels, and one in particular has stuck with me ever since: 'inch by inch it's a cinch, yard by yard it's hard'. What I like about this is the honest truth that we need to break big things down into manageable chunks. This is fine with GCSE revision, but we often don't know how to do this when it comes to our big visions, dreams and plans. I certainly don't!

There's clearly no one answer to this. Your dreams are different to mine. All of us have many dreams which are varied and diverse, nearer or further away. Whatever they are, however far off they may seem, it's important for us to continue to take small steps towards them, to build momentum, however slow. Maybe this is just about giving ourselves time to learn skills, to think, to try things out, to put together the little pieces of Lego one at a time, which will slowly accrete into something bigger, more magnificent. 

Seemingly small things often open doors to new things I've found, but so often in our busyness or discouragement we often put off even the small things. I read a book recently where the author took a year off work (sort of forced, but nevertheless), and he commented that we often overestimate what we can do in a year (and maybe give up), but underestimate what we can do in ten years. The middle ground is often hard, but it's here where battles are often won. Our changing seasons of life present different challenges. The time of life I'm in involves small children, deep weariness and difficulties to do all the things I want to do, but it seems to me that the trick is to keep the pilot light going on our dreams and visions whatever the circumstances, and to keep building - however small, however seemingly insignificant. 

As a child the  joy of Lego was that there were no fixed rules and an endless variety of pieces. You could create what you wanted as long as you put the pieces together. And it just took as long as it took, with plenty of iterations and mistakes in between.. And unlike my brother's prize winning creation, most Lego creations weren't perfect, but they were built, and in many ways therein lay the value. A box of disassembled pieces and some plans of what you could build have potential, but that's all.

So what are you building? Embrace those dreams, dust off those plans, and let's focus on bringing them to life.. Small step by seemingly small step.. You never know where it might lead.

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