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The Courage to Build

The debate over what my favorite toy to play with when I was young is a big "no contest." I was a Lego man. I could sit and build with Legos, by myself or with friends, for hours on end. With pieces scattered everywhere, endangering the bare feet of anyone who came my way, my imagination and the blocks' square edges were the only limitations to the thousands of building projects I launched in the places I called home.

It was easy, really. Build. Admire. Tear apart, and rebuild again, whatever was next. It was a cycle that I relished. As I grew older, I began to think a little more like an architect. I would draw a design, a design of say, a beach house, perfect for the ideal summer vacation, and try to replicate that drawing with my Legos. If I couldn't do it, no big deal. There was always another drawing, a couple of lessons learned along the way, and a renewed energy for another attempt.

The confidence that I had every time I snapped the first brick into place on a new build was boundless. I simply could not imagine an outcome that was negative. Even a less-than-successful run at a design held merit for me. This would become a philosophy I would embrace for much of my life. A philosophy that invited trying something new, for no other reason than to see if it would work, trusting that the lessons learned along the way, succeed or fail, were worth it. However, when I entered the work world, or the real world as so many people like to call it, the confidence I had developed as a daring Lego craftsman would fall under serious fire.

I don't remember the first time my desire to try something new was challenged. What I do remember is, it was happening a lot, like, on a regular basis to the point of thinking I was crazy, a lot. In many of those cases, I would put on the role of the fool just to buy myself the space to try. If I pretended not to see potentially negative outcomes, people seemed more likely to let me go, figuring that I would absorb the force of the lesson I was sure to learn, and would come around to the way everybody else was doing it. But, doing anything the way it had always been done seemed like a waste of time to me, That data had already been collected, and those Lego structures already built.

Over time I have added many roles to cover for my desire to test new waters. If not the fool, then maybe the bull-headed pioneer. If not the pioneer, then the detective, the kind that always seems to be following a wild and unexplained hunch. It was hard for me to understand why these personas even became necessary, when all I really wanted to do was see if we could do something, anything, just a little bit better. Over the years though, one thing has become exceedingly clear to me. New and different often terrify people.

It took exactly zero ounces, or whatever measure is appropriate here, of courage for me to build with my Legos as a kid. It was easy and safe and ultimately harmless. Clearly, the things we do as we grow older have more riding on them. Maybe our jobs, or our credibility, or our good names are hanging in the balance. The fear of gambling with any one of those is enough to make the best of us sit down, or fall in line, and keep our thoughts to ourselves. The challenge is that greatness is almost never born out of routine. It comes from those who think differently, dare, fail, try again, and possibly even fail multiple times. It takes a confidence that believes the breakthrough is worth the peril to keep trying.

If we want our world, or our office, or our families to be better, we must be willing to embrace the spirit of the builder. The builder who is willing to dare greatly, and when everything crashes down around them, pick up the pieces and begin again. The truth is, it takes guts to get out there and build something that you have seen only in your mind, even if the picture there is crystal clear. We not only leave what we build open to critique but the builder as well. Yet, the great accomplishments of any lifetime live on in the endeavors that most people were certain would fail, but instead changed the way we work, or live, or play. So we search to find the right people to surround us, the ones who either see what we see, or trust our vision, because they will help us find the courage to build.

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