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What The Lego Movie 2 Can Teach Us about Living and Working Authentically

I have two young kids and a house full of LEGO, so a natural movie for us to see together in the summer of 2019 was The Lego Movie 2. (We have now seen it at least three times.)

I often appreciate well-done kids’ movies for the layer of nuance that parents can find underneath the silliness. While Lego Movie 2 may reach the pantheon of Pixar movies, I loved the underlying messages in the central plot, and I hope they’ll stick with my kids as they grow up.

You see, I’m raising two boys in a time when there are lots of competing messages out there about how they should be, what’s cool, what’s “appropriate” for boys, and what “real” men look like and do.

While girls have encountered negative messaging forever, it feels like there has been a recent shift toward a more inclusive way of being a girl—smart, strong, silly, and sweet.

For boys, what I’m noticing is that there aren’t a lot of spaces where they can see role models who are in touch with their emotions, who aren’t just putting up a tough front, and who are willing to go out on a limb to declare what they love to do if it’s outside the norm.

Emmet, one of the main characters in The Lego Movie 2, is one of those role models. He is motivated to help others and be kind to people. He is honest about not feeling confident in his skills and abilities to build things (what everyone does in that world). In a stressful, negative-leaning world, he just wants to create a place of joy and awesomeness and help people work together.

When we look at how men are supposed to be, Emmet seems extremely unusual. Men are expected to look out for #1, to get ahead, no matter who they have to step on. Men have to cover up what they’re not good at and can’t be vulnerable about what’s hard for them. Men have to overcome obstacles and focus on results, success, achievement.

In fact, at the beginning of the movie, Emmet gets a bunch of crap for the way he shows up in the world. After enough of that relentless criticism, Emmet questions his gifts and starts to toughen up, thanks to a new role model, Rex Dangervest, who embodies all the things I described in the last paragraph.

I often find my male clients are in this space—having sublimated their true gifts, leadership style, or desires for their career, and gone along with what the world told them they were supposed to do or be. (This happens to many of my female clients—who’ve had to put on “masculine” traits to succeed—too.)

After a decade or two of trying to meet those societal expectations, these men are tired; tired of showing up with a mask on every day, tired of doing work they don’t really care about, tired of playing the game, engaging in politics, and tearing others down to succeed. What they really want is to feel excited to show up to work every day or maybe they want to spend more time tapping into their loving and silly sides with their families.

Though my clients typically show up wanting to figure out what their new career path should be, we have to start from a deeper place. The journey starts with understanding what matters most to them— what their priorities in life are right now and what might need to shift to focus on those things. What do they get excited about? And what do they bring to the table? What kind of culture supports the gifts they have to offer? Then, we can work through the process of finding the place where they can shine without a mask on—where they can make time for what matters most.

In The Lego Movie 2, Emmet goes on a journey. He tries to prove to others that he is a “real” man, but in the process, he alienates those he cares about most. Ultimately (spoiler alert), he finds a different kind of strength within himself; the belief that he was already a real man whose leadership was needed in the world.

My goal is for each of my clients to reach that strong sense of knowing who they are and what they have to offer. In the coming decades, I hope there will be more real-life, Emmet-like role models for kids like mine, who are watching closely to see if their gifts will be fully appreciated.

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