What A Lego Birthday Cake Taught Me About Creative Entrepreneurship
Have you ever watched Cake Boss? They make some pretty amazing cakes, and my youngest has recently become fascinated with every cooking show on Netflix he can find, including that one.
I'm no Cake Boss, but I love my kids.
So when it comes to birthdays, I do my best to give my kids the cake they most want. Sometimes, when it's clearly beyond my skill, I get help:
My friend has mad cake skills, and she once made my youngest this fun Angry Birds cake. The grass alone would have put me in the loony bin.
But this year, my youngest wanted a lego cake - which he, of course, designed using legos:
At first blush, it looked simple enough for me to tackle. Four "bricks" layered on and around one larger "brick" in a quasi "L" shape (because "Liam" starts with "L" after all). I used graph paper. I measured. I planned, and I baked the hell outta this cake. I bought three cake mixes and two cans of frosting, just to be sure I had enough of everything, in case I screwed up and had to do it again. I even started making the cake two days before his birthday - JUST to be sure.
A half sheet cake and 2 dozen miniature muffins later, I thought I had this in the bag.
Until I didn't.
Making the cake part was easy. Mix and bake. Cutting the cake into bricks went pretty smoothly, too. I froze the whole lot to make sure of it. I remembered the LAST time I made a lego cake, and how I thought it would be easy, but it didn't quite turn out according to plan:
So this time, I took it out of the pan, froze it, and that made it SO much easier to level and frost.
But then there were those blasted studs. The lego cake two years ago was a pain to frost between the studs... and this time the studs would be smaller!
I figured that mini muffins would work well, since the last time we used regular cupcakes. But the minis were too wide, and I couldn't get six of them on the bottom layer.
Then I had this seemingly brilliant idea - I have a small petit-four cutter that I could use to cut the cupcakes into perfectly shaped studs!
Except the cake was so light and fluffy that they kept falling apart.
So then I had another seemingly brilliant idea - what if I dipped the cake studs in chocolate? That should firm them up, yes?
Even frozen, the fluffy tubes of cake kept spinning on the dipping stick. So I just plunged one into the chocolate, and it disintegrated in the warm puddle of chocolatey goo.
People were using brownies, peanut butter cups - pretty much everything except cake.
And all I had were these crumbling pieces of cake. I had to make ten studs, and I'd already lost seven of my mini cupcakes. I was starting to panic.
Okay, I was, in fact, getting angry. So angry, that I scraped up all the chocolatey cake glop and poured it out onto wax paper, trying to figure out what the bleep I was going to do. I grabbed the wounded cupcake remains - shot clean through by the cutter - and started squishing and squeezing them, generally being pissed off at the world.
That's when it happened.
The chocolate and cake started to form this dough-like substance. I'm told this is something like how cake balls are made.
So I took my doughy-chocolate-cake-ball glop, packed it down into the petit-four mold, then I stuck it in the freezer for a minute or three.
Voila! A perfectly hard chunk of cake-stuff that wasn't going to be a beeotch to frost! Now I could proceed with the crumb coat!
I frosted and froze each layer independently, then assembled everything once the crumb coat was on. I'd like to say that was my first mistake, but if you've read this far, you know better. I really should have frosted each layer separately and then assembled the darn thing after all the frosting was completed. But since I'm not a cake boss, and I was building this whole thing from a lego design, I, of course, built it the same way my kid built the original plan.
Cakes are not Legos
Only problem is, cakes don't interlock the way legos do.
When we cut into it today, we'll have to avoid the mine field of wooden skewers and toothpicks that are deftly holding this creation in an upright and locked position.
But it's assembled. I even managed to frost it (in multiple colors) without killing myself. Although I ended up sending the husband out for another tub of frosting because I didn't have enough to put on the final white coat or finish the blue layer.
I managed to finish last night, just in time for him to see it before he went to school this morning.
Here's the finished product:
It leans a little The layers aren't perfect. If you look really closely, there are a couple of spots behind the blue studs where the white crumb coat still shows because I couldn't get in there to frost it without screwing up the green. On the other side, there's a small gap between the yellow and white frosted layers. And the size of the studs make it look more like a set of Duplo blocks than Legos, but you know what? My kid thinks it's fantastic, so I am completely happy with it.
"Exactly 10 studs showing, Mom! Nice job. And you used strong brick connections, just like a real Lego build!"
Dude. I just followed your design. I changed the colors a bit (I was NOT making grey frosting. Ick.), but other than that, this is your design, kid.
And that's the reality of being a mom - it's not about me. Sure, I want it to be perfect and measure up to the original idea, but my definition of perfect and his are entirely different. Maybe his bar is set too low, but maybe mine is set too high - on a lot of things.
So, too, is this the journey of every creative entrepreneur. We get an idea, and even the best laid plans don't always mean our project will turn out perfectly... far from it, usually. You can plow a lot of money into hiring a great team to support a project and still get lousy results (like Langley's government-backed team of experts trying to get an airplane off the ground). You might even run out of frosting - er, I mean, resources - mid way through the project. But still you plow through.
So if it's not about money, or planning, or even a great idea, what is it really about?
Oh, I know it sounds all cliche and Pollyanna, but the reality is that love - not passion - is what keeps you going on projects like this. I have no passion for making cakes, but I love my kid. You love your fans, and you're creating for them. You love the act of creating, so you're creating for you. And the problems that come up along the way are just the hurdles you have to navigate - they're part of the journey. Never once while I was making this cake did I threaten to quit. I did threaten to throw the cake across the room and start over a couple of times with those blasted studs, but I wasn't about to quit.
Because my kid matters. Because bringing him joy matters. Because bringing his creation to life matters to me. Showing him you can take an idea and make it a reality is important to me. It's a lesson I want him to learn now, while he's young, so that he can take it with him into the world when he becomes a creative entrepreneur in his own right.
It's not about you (but it is)
Because the sooner you learn that it's never about you (and yet, it's all about you), the sooner you realize that all the external measures of success don't mean squat. It's only ever been about your fans, and deepening your connection with them. It's only ever been about finding your joy and sharing that joy with the world.
Those studs are the best part of the cake, in my opinion. Because that's where my heart and soul are. That's the part I had to figure out. That's the part that challenged me and gave me an opportunity to grow - not just as a cake maker (God help me), but as a human being. Those studs challenged me to not give up, to keep trying, to figure it out.
I never would have tried so hard if it were just about me. This was for my kid. My fan. So I doubled down. And in the process, I got a tremendous benefit: I learned. I persevered. I created.
The Creative's Challenge
Every creative endeavor meets this moment of challenge: do you give up, or keep trying? Do you listen to everyone around you that says your way is wrong ("Use peanut butter cups!" "Use brownies!"), or do you keep trying to figure out the way that will work for you ("But all I have is cake, frosting, and chocolate chips. Hmm, I wonder...")?
Maybe it will work, maybe it won't, and maybe you'll throw it out and start over. But one things for certain: you won't quit until you figure it out. And maybe, just maybe, if you're like most creatives, you'll come up with some clever new way of doing/being/experiencing the world that will inspire your fans and deepen that connection in a way that makes them love you even more.
Isn't that what it means to be a creative anyway?
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Often times, we as creators find ourselves in a bind. Okay, bind is not the right word. Neither is stuck. It's more like being trapped in a building that's collapsed. We're gasping for oxygen, battling with ourselves over whether we should scream out for help or conserve what little oxygen we have.
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