|My original Lego pirate (with a replacement hat)|
There was a story that a friend told me once that I never managed to quite grasp the significance of until earlier this year. Lego helped me to understand it, as strange as that sounds. I’ll explain the Lego side of things before I tell you what it helped me understand. And yes I am well aware of how ridiculous and abstract this story will sound because I’m an adult going on about how a very specific niche like Lego affects my feelings.
See, what happened to me was that because I grew up poor, I didn’t have any Lego until I was about 10 and we moved to Australia. The Lego I did have then were the smallest sets then available, the only “luxury” toys mum could afford. I loved Lego as a concept, I loved the minifigures (that’s the little Lego people), I loved the stories I could make with them, the adventures the minifigures could go on, etc. I even held onto one of my original pirate minifigures until now, about 25 years on. As a kid I played with him and as an adult I carried this little guy around on a keyring for a long time – until I lost his hat, then I decided it was safer to put him on a shelf and get more Lego. But then as an adult I became hesitant to spend money on “toys”.
In about 2011, after I left my hospital job, I started to earn more reasonable money. Now, when you’ve been poor growing up you can then become a very frugal person. That’s what happened to me. One day I was in a store with a good friend and I was eyeing off some Lego. She said to me “why do you keep looking at it? If you can afford it, get it”. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was hesitant to "waste" money. Geez, there’s people even poorer than my family was and they can’t afford basic things, so how can I bring myself to splurge on something so non-essential to life, a luxury? But my friend supported me, she could see how badly I wanted the Lego (and yes I was at this stage nearly 30 years old) and yet how much it troubled me to spend money on myself for non-essential things. She convinced me that it’s OK to enjoy life and the things I like. And so I allowed myself permission to spend on Lego. And I developed a true love and passion for it! I mean greater enthusiasm than I had as a child; greater than I think children are actually capable of (if you meet any true adult Lego fan your first thought will be ‘what a weirdo, this is a kid’s toys’, but your second thought will be ‘wow, this guy really really LOVES Lego’). It's crazy but I felt so passionate for all things Lego, and I wanted to learn everything about them and just enjoy them as much as I could. If you know me, you probably have at some point received from me photos of a Lego set and saying something like "the guys who designed these sets are absolute geniuses!" Needless to say, I soon came to own a fair amount of Lego, though I only get the sets I feel something for.
Recently I met someone else who claimed to like Lego though didn’t own any as an adult. I did as my friend had done with me and normalized it for her, told her it’s OK to have Lego as an adult – just like I had. Well, what happened was that suddenly she started buying Lego, copious amounts of Lego. Making decisions to buy entire series of Lego without first even knowing what individual sets came within that series, what the cost was, without any care for individual sets or figures, just a determination that all must be owned. That’s when I started to become uneasy with her. Because to me Lego (at an adult fan level) is about passion, and she was treating it purely as a possession. The crux of my thought was that she was treating my passion without respect. And yet I remained fully aware of how petty my unease sounded if I ever voiced it to anyone, except maybe another adult fan of Lego.
My unease peaked when this woman started buying a Lego series known as Modular buildings, a series designed by the Lego group specifically in response to adult fans of Lego. See, the thing is that to me as an amateur adult fan of Lego owning any of the sets in the Modular series is the ultimate prize, the big reward. And she bought them the same as one buys a $2 piece of junk you just want to have in your house. And as pathetic as this sound, that kind of hurt me. It's weird, but it was like stepping on my toes! It hurt me that someone who’s new to this, who doesn't share the lifelong passion for Lego, just goes and basically buys my dreams! And with full awareness that this will make me sound even more pathetic, I mourned. I felt like I had to mourn my dreams. I can't own the modulars now. How can I "treat" myself to or call a prize something that to this woman was seen like just a simple "thing"? I had to mourn that I will now never own a modular set. I don't want to share with her something that to her means nothing.
Anyhow, so recently (actually not that recent, I have been sitting on this story a few months because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings), I told this story to the friend who originally convinced me to get into Lego again as an adult. She’s often my confidante and knows me more than most people. And I said to her, “I am being ridiculous, right? Tell me I am being silly feeling so hurt because this other woman didn’t respect my passion; tell me this isn’t as big as I’m making out to be”. And, yes, at first she laughed, but mostly because she said to me ‘so you now get why the story I told you about what happened to me and my job affected me so much?’ And, yes, I remembered; yes, I finally understood something about her I hadn’t fully understood until then. And, yes, it also eclipsed what I felt because her story actually involved people’s careers and overall life journey. I feel I have to tell you this story so you also understand why my Lego story affected me so (in case you still can’t get over the fact that I am talking about Lego, and, yes, Lego is marketed as a stupid children’s toy).
My friend worked 10 years towards becoming an ambulance officer. It was her dream job. Every job she had before that was in preparation for it. In fact, by the time she started working this job she was possibly overqualified. Her partner knew very well that this ambulance job was the dream she had been working towards all along. Then one day, her partner realised that he was miserable in his own job, and came home and told my friend that he was going to join the ambulance service. Just like that. He never had a real interest in it. Then suddenly, my friend who is more giving than she is capable of self-preservation, realised that her partner had taken her goal and made it his. But not in the way couples do when a goal becomes a shared goal like keeping the relationship together or caring for children or growing a joint financial investment, etc. It was more like my friend’s dream was cast aside – and it quickly became, not her partner’s dream, but his “must-have”.
So, when I told my friend the Lego story between me and this other friend she said to me “I see how you feel like you were stepped on. I know what it feels like to have someone almost steal your passion from you. But not for the right reasons. Not because you actually share that passion. That's different. But when it's more of a 'Yeah, I can do that!’ Or ‘I can get that too!.. And I can do even better and go the whole way’” My friend eventually realised how her partner’s thought pattern and behaviour didn’t just apply to the jobs they did, but more generally. How other aspects of his personality and his willingness to “step on her toes”, his must-have nature, didn’t just extend to just work. And my friend became resentful of him without even realising it. She realised though that her partner did not understand her at all, and that this whole incident had caused her to lose part of herself when her partner became an ambulance officer. They’re not together anymore. So, she said, she gets how deeply hurtful my experience with my friend is because it is somewhat similar to what she went through. And they thing is she had told me her story before, but only now did I get it. Because I had now felt perhaps only a small proportion of what she felt for a long time.
There's passion. And then there's possession. And it’s hard to respect someone who will step over your passions to claim a possession for themselves.