Lessons From A Puzzle
I leaned over the coffee table to get a better look, as my eyes remained fixed on the object before me. My eyebrows furrowed in a look of determination as I tried to decipher the significance of the object’s shape and more importantly figure out where it belonged. It was a Sunday evening and as usual my parents and I had eaten dinner together before gathering in the living room for a family activity. On this day, 24 colourful jigsaw pieces lay sprawled on the wooden coffee table before me. A candle’s light danced at the edge of the coffee table, flickering at the side of my face and offering me more warmth than illumination. Despite the fact that the room was well light, my mom would habitually light candles to enhance the cosiness of the house. This was my first memory of doing a puzzle. The puzzle was called Jungle Pals and it was made up of 24 easy to handle pieces. The colourful puzzle depicted a scene comprising of elephants, tigers, crocodiles, fishes, birds, snakes and even ants playing together and living in harmony. Despite the fact that the puzzle was made for 3-6-year-olds and that a single puzzle piece was nearly double the size of my 5-year-old hand I was still having difficulty putting the pieces together. We sat around the coffee table - for more time than was necessary for a 24-piece puzzle - as my parents gently guided me through to completion of my first puzzle. From that day I was hooked. Over the coming years, I did puzzles of Disney princesses, mountain ranges, small towns, famous paintings, and lots of jungle puzzles for some reason. First, it was 24 pieces, then 50, then 100 and soon I was completing 200-piece puzzles all by myself. I even did puzzles over Christmas holidays with aunties and uncles and cousins that would visit my home for the holidays. In fact, the first 1000-piece puzzle I ever did was during the holidays. I remember thinking this is impossible when my cousins pulled out a 1000-piece puzzle of mickey mouse playing cello outside in the snow as Pluto sang beside him. And that year we did the impossible and finished a 1000-piece puzzle. We eventually had to retire the coffee table and move to the dining table as the puzzles got bigger and more elaborate. Puzzle-making eventually grew into a whole family endeavour - from the youngest nieces and nephews to the grandparents, we would all gather around the dining table and work at our chosen puzzle for the holidays, stopping only for wine and milk refills or to decorate the Christmas tree. Over the years, puzzles have played a big role in my life. They have been a source of family, community, independence, and refuge. And here are 10 life lessons I have learned from my journey with puzzles.
1. Being in pieces doesn’t mean that you’re broken.
The first and foremost important lesson of puzzle making is that, just because something is in pieces it doesn’t mean its broken - it’s just a masterpiece waiting to happen. If you received an already finished puzzle, would that be any fun? So, think of life in the same way, just because things are in pieces doesn’t mean your journey is going wrong. Putting the pieces together is part of the journey, in fact, it’s the point of the journey. If everything in your life came to you already perfect and tied up in a neat bow what would be your purpose? Is there any fun living a perfect life? How would we appreciate the joy of figuring out where a piece of our life belongs if we have never known the pain and frustration of uncertainty? This is not to glorify pain or suffering and make them seem as desirable things for our lives. Rather, this is to create a way of overcoming suffering by understanding that it is simply a part of life and that everyone goes through it.
So how does a puzzle help us resolve this? Firstly, by seeing things as merely being in pieces and not broken you can accept the fact that the pain you are going through is normal. No one receives a puzzle that is already pieced together. Not even the rich nor powerful. Your puzzle, like your life, will come to you in pieces and you have the wonderful job of putting it together. Your puzzle is unique to you. Hence, you should build your puzzle with the knowledge that everyone else is busy building theirs, and take comfort in knowing everyone is on their own journey. Lastly, you should build the puzzle with love and kindness. It may get frustrating but unfortunately the pieces will not magically put themselves together. Keep going with a loving and kind heart.
2. Nothing is impossible.
As I mentioned in my recount about my introduction to puzzles, I once felt that a 24-piece puzzle was difficult to do, let alone a 1000-piece puzzle which seemed impossible. Now I can do a 1000-piece puzzle all by myself in about 48 hours. This progression in my puzzle-making abilities has taught me that nothing in life is insurmountable. If your mind is right and you stay positive you can do anything. The only thing that limits you is your way of thinking about things. You must first and foremost believe in yourself and in the possibility of achieving something in order for you to succeed. Not believing is a sure way of ensuring that you fail. The energy you put out to the universe is the same energy you get back, so make sure it’s positive.
3. Your core values are your corner pieces and your morals are your edge pieces.
The best strategy when doing a puzzle is to first locate all the corner and edge pieces in order to build a border that will guide your puzzle making. These corner and edge pieces form the outline for your life journey. They frame the picture of your life and guide the path your journey takes. Let the corner pieces be your core-values. These are the principles that are the most salient to your life. Core values could range from family to community to positivity to honesty. Your core values are for you to decide and they play a very important role in helping you decide whether situations or relationships in your life are aligning with your soul. Core values help make decisions a lot easier because all you need to ask yourself is does this align with my values? While core values help guide decisions for individual self, morals guide decisions for your greater more universal self. This greater universal self could be your immediate community, your greater community, your environment, animals, plants, or any living being including the earth itself. Your morals are your compass on what is right or wrong. Like the edge pieces on a puzzle they frame where your responsibilities lie. Any piece that doesn’t fit within the border created by your edge pieces is the wrong piece for your puzzle. Like the border pieces whatever doesn’t fit within your morals is wrong for you – this doesn’t mean it’s wrong for everyone but you can know happily that it’s not for you. Indeed, you can begin a puzzle without having corner pieces and edge pieces in place, however, it is a lot harder to build a picture when you have no idea where the boundaries lie. Without a foundation of values and morals which you can reference to guide your decisions and path, you can easily get lost in the process. Your core values are essential in helping you make a decision while your morals help guide you within that decision.
4. If a piece doesn’t fit, don’t force it.
Sometimes while making a puzzle you may come across a piece that appears to fit in a particular spot but doesn’t quite fit. You may decide to continue trying to force the piece to fit, however, you will eventually realize that if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. If a piece belongs elsewhere, you must put it aside for the moment and come back to it at a later time. Forcing it to fit will simply mean that you will have other pieces later in the puzzle that won’t have a place to belong. Eventually, you will have to come back and remove the piece from its ill-fitted position, and this will take some pulling and tagging that could leave some damage to your overall picture. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation, career, relationship that you don’t quite fit in don’t force yourself in. You not fitting in somewhere isn’t a reflection of your incapacity, rather, it is a demonstration that there is something better in store for you. Everything falls in place in its own time. It is also okay to table some things for the meantime and come back to them later.
5. Not everywhere you fit is where you belong.
While you make a puzzle, there comes the odd one or two times where a piece fits where it does not belong. Unlike the above scenario where you are actively trying to force the piece in place, in this case, the piece easily falls into a particular space. This reminds us that we need to remain observant and mindful. Simply fitting somewhere doesn’t mean you belong there. You may be a highly adaptable person; therefore, you are able to adapt to many scenarios. You may be good at adapting yourself to a career you’re not passionate about and maybe even being successful in it. You might adapt yourself to a relationship that is unhealthy and even learn how to survive in it. However, these are not ideal scenarios, because they are eating away at your soul and not helping you realize your true potential. So don’t just strive to fit in. You must be aware of your surroundings and larger environment to determine where it is you actually belong. To simply fit in is to survive, but finding where you belong is to thrive.
6. Never lose sight of the bigger picture.
When making a puzzle you will eventually reach a point when you are looking at an individual piece and are getting frustrated because you cannot find out where it belongs. Indeed, when we are too zoomed into a picture, things may not make sense. However, when you zoom out and begin to see where the piece lies in the bigger picture you can find its place easier. Hence, the same philosophy applies to life. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed because it seems you’ve been stuck on one thing for such a long time. The pieces might all seem to look the same now and your mind may no longer be able to tell them apart. Luckily, it doesn’t mean that they don’t actually make sense in reality, you have simply lost sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes you need to zoom out of the life you are so tuned into and look at things from afar. This can offer you a new insight into where you are, where you are going, and under what context you are working in. If a pair of fresh eyes is needed, do not be afraid to seek guidance. Sometimes we may need help in being zoomed out and that’s okay.
7. Every piece is important
When doing puzzles there are some pieces you will remember looking at, or searching for, over long periods of time. You might have felt that these pieces were integral to the puzzle and that it was of the utmost importance that you find them. Contrastingly, you might find other pieces easily and place them quickly without giving them much thought. However, at the end of the puzzle, you realize that every single piece was important because if any one of them was missing your puzzle would be incomplete. Similarly, in life, we should not take for granted any of your experiences. Yes, you may be greatly looking forward to some things more than others, however, you need to be mindful and remember that all your experiences contribute to a bigger picture, and that you have learned a great deal from each piece.
8. Focus on the present.
When doing a puzzle whatever piece or section you are working on must be exactly what you are doing at that moment and nothing more. You cannot do two ends of a puzzle simultaneously. You must choose to focus on one section at a time. You can leave a section unfinished for the time being and move to fully focus on another section. However, continuously shifting your focus back and forth between two sections will simply not work. You will not be giving each section the type of attention and care it deserves. The same applies to life. Whatever it is you are putting your energy in must be fully what you are putting your energy in. Give care and attention to whatever it is you are working on at the moment. Multi-tasking might seem like a desirable thing to do, however, in reality, you are not working on multiple things at the same time you are simply dividing your attention between multiple things. Instead of risking the mediocrity that might come with divided attention, give your all to one thing at a time. It is okay to decide that one thing needs to be tabled for the moment if you are getting nowhere, but ensure that whatever it is you are switching your attention to, you are giving it all your attention. Focus on what you are doing on the present, not what you might be doing in the future nor what you did in past.
9. The picture gets bigger, more detailed, and more complicated with time, but you get stronger.
A 24-piece puzzle was once insurmountable to my 5-year-old self. As I got older I started doing more and more complicated puzzles. Indeed, I might not have been able to do a 1000-piece puzzle at the age of 5, however, I can now do one all by myself. The puzzle may have gotten more complicated with time, but I also grew smarter and wiser with age, therefore, I was able to do what I once looked at with fear. The same applies to life. You may be frustrated or suffering at this moment and wishing that things will just clear up and get easier, but that is not the truth of life. Things will definitely get harder and more complicated, but that’s okay because you will get stronger and wiser so when you are met with these future complications you will have the wisdom and ingenuity to get past them. So give yourself credit where it’s due, you are much stronger than you think.
10. You can do it alone but it’s more fun doing it together.
Lastly, I have the utmost faith in the fact that anyone can complete a puzzle on their own – even the larger more difficult ones. You should take pride in your individuality and your capacity to support yourself and lead yourself. It is important to believe in your ability to do things on your own because that can give you great confidence. Nonetheless, the fact that you can do it alone doesn’t mean you have to. You can find great joy and happiness from working with others. Yes, you can do the puzzle of life all on your own – and sometimes you don’t have a choice – however, when you do have a choice it is more fun to make the puzzle with others. To help each other, support each other, make memories, form profound bonds. Even if you don’t finish the puzzle with the same set of people you started with, the connections you made along the way were important and soul filling. Indeed, you should admire your strength and strong sense of individuality, but also remember that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a gateway to many beautiful potential connections and possibilities. The social aspects of life are important and we are social creatures so don’t seclude yourself, talk to others, love, laugh and ask for help. We are all here for a limited amount of time and in the end, we’ll be glad we spent it together.