When I was in the 5th grade I made the LEGO team at my elementary school. The LEGO League was for the smartest of the smart kids- the kids who would go on to work at NASA, or (re)invent the electric car, or cure cancer… you get the idea.
I had no idea what I was doing there.
The LEGO team met several times a week for the better part of the semester, gearing up for the LEGO League competition at the end of the year where students from across the country presented their LEGO robots and each robot’s ability to mosey down a pre-programmed route in order to rescue the LEGO character in peril. Exciting stuff.
I, personally, was panicked.
Sure, I was excited for LEGO team. At that age, who doesn’t love hanging out with your classmates after school surrounded by a bunch of toys? But, as it turned out, the other fifth-graders took it very seriously. Nobody wanted to create fanciful architecture with the legos. I was reprimanded more than once for poking into the snack jar before it was snack time. And, honestly, I did not understand coding at all.
Granted, looking back on it now, it is highly doubtful we were doing anything more strenuous than inputting pre-ordained numbers into a spreadsheet, but my fifth grade mind was mentally horrified. I felt woefully inadequate while I watched my teammates put their heads together and work through the programming rules to ensure the robot went where it was supposed to. I excelled at things like ensuring my mom brought the best snacks on my snack day, and pointing out that if we inserted a black lego on either side of the robot’s head it would look like he had eyes.
I wondered if my teammates recognized my inadequacies. I wondered if the LEGO supervisor did. I wondered if my parents did. I honestly didn’t want to wait to find out. So, I took matters into my own hands and requested to work on the team’s poster board presentation, while the rest of the team worked on the robot itself.
I settled into my role, mostly relieved and only slightly resigned. Every so often, I would raise my head up from my work to watch as my teammates cheered whenever the robot did what they wanted. Then, I would put my head back down and go back to my work. I didn’t really feel like I belonged over there. I was an imposter in their smart-smart world and if I tried too hard to exist outside of my comfort zone, I would be revealed.
The day of the competition came and the excitement of the stadium, with thousands of students, hundreds of robots, and way too many competitive parents, erased all earlier angst relating to being on the LEGO team. This was fun. This was definitely worth it.
Our robot wasn’t able to save the LEGO character, but he did a damn good job trying. Unfortunately, as a result, we didn’t place in the competition. My teammates were devastated. Their parents were mildly disappointed, but proud. I was… eating snacks. I mean, win or lose, the LEGO League was just too cool to be stressed out about.
But then the LEGO League organizers announced the final award of the evening – an award which I did not know even existed:
Yeah, you guessed it. I won that. I mean, technically my team won it, but, let’s be honest. I won it.
It was a strange feeling. I had spent the last three months feeling like I was on a team I had no business being on, and then the only reason my team brought home a trophy, (a trophy which is still in my elementary school’s trophy case, I might add), was because of me.
It didn’t mean that I was the backbone of LEGO team or anything, I mean, I seriously had no head for coding or robotics. But, I learned something very important from that experience: It doesn’t matter where you are or who surrounds you, you have your own special skills and abilities that you can use to the advantage of any situation. Perhaps less evident than someone else’s, but still there and still valuable.
I’m telling you this story now because here I am, almost twenty years later: a lawyer who graduated cum laude from Georgetown Law, working in a law firm where I feel like I am an imposter in their smart-smart world.
Yeah, sounds silly even typing it.
I know I’m a first-year lawyer and I’m not supposed to be brilliant, but I watch the other first-years, my LEGO team, if you will, and I don’t feel like I belong. I don’t know the leanings of the Supreme Court Justices, I can’t spout off black letter law in the midst of a casual lunch conversation, and almost every time a partner starts talking to me, I feel like my head empties.
But, here’s the thing: I’m not a LEGO girl and I’m not a legal eagle (beagle?), and that’s okay. I’m smart for different reasons.
I don’t need to be able to quote case law from memory. I’m a good researcher and an even better writer. I don’t need to remember every law-related news article that has ever come out. I’m organized, diligent, and I have a great work ethic.
So, I’m reminding myself: I don’t have to be what everyone else is in order to be successful. In fact, I’m actually more successful when I focus on enhancing my own skills, rather than forcing myself to be like someone I’m not.
Why spend my energy agonizing over the special skills of someone else, when I could be celebrating the special skills that make me me?
Thanks, LEGO League.