Written by Miri Korbman
As a young girl, the tiny choking-hazard-size pieces of Lego sets that might eventually be made into a giant city held little appeal for me. Recently, however, I was privileged to spend a few hours (yes, hours!) lost in the brilliant, miniature architecture as I helped my nephews, ages 6 and 4 respectively, build a Lego fire station. Like every Lego set, ours was accompanied by an instruction manual listing, piece by tiny piece, each and every Lego in the box with step-by-step directions for how to construct every part, from the fire truck to the fire chief’s office to the giant yellow slide down which the Lego firemen were meant to descend as they hurried off to put out a fire (I suppose poles are no longer in vogue).
As we set out to begin our project, we attempted to follow the instructions in the manual: First, locate tiny-red-square-Lego #1, then attach it to slightly-bigger-tiny-red-square-Lego #1; attach that to a small, red rectangle, etc. etc. As we pieced together what would eventually become an impressive fire truck complete with lights and a ladder, my four-year-old nephew grew more and more impatient with each tiny-red-piece. “When are we going to build the fire truck?!” he asked repeatedly. His wise older brother tried to explain that we were, in fact, building the fire truck, but to no avail; to four-year-old eyes, we were just spending an inordinate amount of time playing with a bunch of tiny red Legos.
We live in a society that is perpetually asking for product, performance, and results. There is a constant struggle to live up to daunting expectations, not simply to work hard, but specifically to bear fruit. Unfortunately, it is not just the expectations of others to which we must constantly measure up; sadly, we are often our own toughest critics when we do not reach specific milestones, or overcome certain, perhaps insurmountable, hurdles. We place immense burdens on ourselves, and react with disdain and contempt for our own bodies’ limitations when we cannot perform, or when it takes us longer than we thought it would to achieve a goal. These unreasonably high standards, the perhaps unattainable goals we set for ourselves, and, more than anything, the severe impatience with which we respond to our own shortcomings can breed disappointment, frustration, anxiety, and even a feeling of hopelessness.
Our inability to tolerate the pace at which we function, our perpetual dissatisfaction with the quantity or quality of our accomplishments, our fierce self-loathing when we cannot measure up to our own expectations, is extremely detrimental and can be damaging not only to our own mental health and self-concept but to our relationships with others, as well. When we are in the habit of being critical of ourselves when we do not come through or produce, it is a quick and slippery slope to criticism and intolerance of others’ shortcomings, as well. Responding to our bodies’ cycles, shortcomings, and idiosyncrasies with love and patience can save us a lot of worry and distress, and can help us practice expressing love and patience to other people in our lives who, by virtue of being human, may be limited at times in their capacity to produce.
This idea of being kind to our bodies and tolerating our own shortcomings is valuable for anyone and everyone, in many ways. As a runner, I have to live with the limits of my physical abilities every time I go for a run. Sometimes I surpass my own expectations, sometimes I meet them, and sometimes I have to jog-walk when a cramp creeps up, or if I’m simply too tired to push myself further. We are socialized to scoff at accepting our bodies’ weaknesses, and may think of this attitude of toleration and acceptance as simply going easy on ourselves; after all, how will we ever get anything done in this world if we do not push ourselves (or others), especially when the going gets tough? But acknowledging our limitations and practicing a loving, accepting attitude toward our bodies does not have to mean coddling or selling ourselves short. Rather, when practiced properly and consistently, this love and patience can encourage the body to produce at its own, unique pace.
Cultivating these skills might be easier if we understood that people operate a lot like Lego sets. Sometimes we are alert, agile, functioning with alacrity, and can build quickly, using very few pieces. But far more often, it takes a lot of time and patience to develop our skills and then utilize them to accomplish what we set out to do. Furthermore, given that we will have periods of astounding productivity when we are at peak performance, it is important to savor these moments, but not to create a false perception that this level of function is the norm.
Rather, at the times when the construction of our own life goals and achievements is moving more slowly, or when we are up against a road block, we can view the decline as a part of a natural cycle, and recognize that if we are patient with ourselves and respond to our shortcomings with tolerance and love, with time we will produce again.
So even when it appears as though all you are doing is finding tiny red squares to fit together in some semblance of order, rather than becoming frustrated with the pace of your progress, think of the Lego manual and remember that, were you to only take a peek at page one, you would never image the tremendous fire station (complete with fireman slide and fire truck!) that you can build; it just takes some time, and a lot of love and patience.