Life is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle
Have you ever thought of your life in terms of a metaphor?
Forrest Gump eloquently told us that “life is like a box of chocolates” and that is a metaphor that many of us are familiar with. Are there other metaphors that work to describe life?
I was reading Martha Beck’s book “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World” last night and she talked about finding a metaphor for everything. For some reason, I started to think about a jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor of life.
In the beginning there are so many pieces and it can be hard to figure out where to start. But you create a plan and start the journey. Many people start a puzzle by doing the outside pieces first. Some will sort the pieces into colours, others may sort them into shapes. But no matter how many pieces there are, it all starts when the first piece is in place and the puzzle gets put together one piece at a time. The journey of solving a puzzle sounds a bit like a life journey in that way, doesn’t it?
Sometimes you’re working on a section and can’t find the piece to complete that particular section. It can be very frustrating. You shuffle and shuffle the pieces but you just can’t find that special piece. Come on, it’s got to be in here somewhere. I find it funny that just when I’ve pretty much given up, the piece seems to reveal itself. But why did I work so hard to find that single piece? Why did I let it cause frustration? The truth is that the piece was there all along, and if I had just been patient, I could have had the same result without the frustration. That sounds a bit like life, doesn’t it? Sometimes we push and push and push for a desired result. We’re attached to an outcome. We can’t wait. We get frustrated at the lack of results … and then “it just happens”. The answer was there all along, but until we let go, until we surrender, the answer just doesn’t seem to come. Until it does.
Another thing about a jigsaw puzzle is that it takes time to put it all together. You usually know what the final product is going to look like, but you have to go through the effort of placing each piece into its rightful position. There are no short cuts. One piece at a time, it’s always a work in progress right up to the last piece.
Well that sounds a bit like life too, doesn’t it? Every step of the way you’re making progress. Sometimes a piece is just a piece and it falls into place effortlessly. Other times a particular piece brings great satisfaction. You can’t help but tap down on the piece a few times, sort of like patting yourself on the back for a job well done. Yup, there are a few special pieces along the way of every jigsaw puzzle journey. Is that starting to sound familiar? Is that how your life is occurring? Some pieces are hard to find, others seem to just fall in to place, and a few others provide great satisfaction.
Sometimes people jump in to help with the jigsaw puzzle. As much as I enjoy working on my puzzles and don’t mind doing them alone, something special seems to happen when people jump in to help. It’s almost like a type of bonding that takes place. There’s no competition, and everyone feels the satisfaction of a few pieces joined together regardless of who gets the piece. Smiles, winks and high fives have been seen to happen when a team of fellow puzzle solvers comes together. The helpers often approach puzzle solving a bit differently than you do, but it really doesn’t matter. Like a true community, the help is always appreciated. Hhmmm, that sounds a lot like life should happen, doesn’t it?
After what may seem like an eternity, the pieces start to fall in to place rapidly. The last few pieces are quite simple, even in the most difficult puzzles. I have found that to be the case in many life projects as well. It’s a lot of planning and hard work in the beginning, but at the end of the project things seem to fall into place quite effortlessly.
I have worked on a few puzzles in the presence of pets, children, and sticky body parts. You know where this is going, don’t you? Sometimes the last piece seems to go missing for a while. Are you kidding? I’ve spent all this time and effort on this puzzle and I don’t get to see the finished product. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling. You look everywhere, and to no avail. It’s not to be found. Your project has been a failure.
Ahhhhh, found it. I can get rid of all those negative thoughts now, the project wasn’t a failure after all. Success, completion, satisfaction are the emotions that show themselves now.
But let’s look at that from a slightly different perspective. Should you look at an entire project as a failure simply because one piece is missing? Does that imply that the rest of the exercise was a waste of time? Is the part where your friends jumped in to help nothing but a distant memory? Have the feelings that went with those other satisfying moments simply swept away by the final disappointment? Or was the journey itself something that should be remembered and embraced even more than the final outcome?
Some puzzles I’ve worked on don’t come with a picture. There’s no way of knowing what the puzzle is until it’s completed. I’ve worked on a few murder mystery puzzles that are like this. The puzzles don’t tend to be that hard, but there’s no initial idea of what the finished product is going to look like. Life is like this, isn’t it? We have to make up our own picture and put the pieces together one at a time.
I think there are some other interesting aspects of working with jigsaw puzzles that represent life as well. Once a puzzle is completed we often start another puzzle. We might take that puzzle apart and put it back in a box to do again another day. In life, there are often parts of the puzzle that we’d like to take apart and start over too. This is like a life change or transformation. The puzzle may go back in the box, but the lessons we learned from doing that particular puzzle will help us complete the next puzzle a wee bit more efficiently.
In our life puzzle, we don’t even know how many pieces there are. But we start with an inkling of an idea of what our life will look like and we start putting the pieces together. In life, there are no corner pieces and there are no edge pieces. We have no boundaries like that. We simply keep putting pieces together and the puzzle keeps growing. Sometimes we finish off a section, take time to appreciate that part, and then move on to another section. … And the puzzle keeps growing, piece by piece, section by section.
I like to think of my jigsaw puzzle as a masterpiece and I hope all of you think of yours the same way. Mine may not seem like a masterpiece to others, but I don’t care. All that matters is that it seems like a masterpiece to me. I like when people help me put my puzzle together, and I hope they appreciate it when I help others put theirs together or find that missing piece.
Mine has a couple missing pieces at the moment, and somehow I know that someone is going to jump in to help real soon to help me find the missing piece or pieces. And there are a couple of new sections that have been started and the pieces are really starting to fall into place now. Yup, for me, I’m enjoying my jigsaw puzzle journey called life.
Are you enjoying yours?
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