All the Little Pieces – 3 Things I Learned About Completing My First Puzzle

My sister was the puzzle master when we were growing up. I recall her going through a time, a phase perhaps, of doing lots of puzzles. And she was good at them. She had patience and perseverance. And she seemed to have an eye or perhaps an intuitive sense of where the pieces were meant to go.

I did not seem to care much for puzzles when I was younger. Perhaps I found them too painstaking for my very limited patience. When I was a teenager, if something was too hard, I just didn’t do it or whined and whimpered “this is too hard” the entire time. I was always impressed, though, that my sister could find enjoyment in completing a puzzle (and not throwing a frustration tantrum in the process).

Over this past Christmas, I saw a few posts from families that were completing puzzles together and talking about how great that time was of the family gathering, working on something together, chatting about life stuff and of course, congratulating each other when placing that elusive piece. It piqued my interest and I thought, why not give it a try?

Hence, I went out and got me a puzzle. Now I had no idea if my first puzzle should be 250, 500 or 1000 (or heaven forbid, 2000) pieces. I knew I wanted to be somewhat challenged, but I did not want to revert back to my teenage “this is too hard, I give up” behavior, so I thought 750 pieces would be a good start. I brought it home, I scattered the 750 pieces onto the table, I looked at the picture and thought to myself “crap, this is going to be hard”. And it was. But I persevered and after two weeks, I finished my first puzzle.

All the while I reflected on how much a puzzle is like life and thought, this would make a fun blog post. So here we go, here are 3 things I learned (about life) from doing a puzzle:

Patience: I’m sure a few of you are saying “no-shit Sherlock!” This cannot be surprising to anyone. It was big pile of pieces. This was going to be a new level of patience. I had no idea where to start – of course you all know, you start with the border. But even the border felt like every other piece was the same. So, I just started, one piece at a time. I took my time and when I got it right, I hooted (see picture to understand the pun). And dontcha know – life sometimes really takes a lot of patience. I’ve experienced the negative impact of impatience in the workplace and it was a big lesson for me. I became uber impatient when an employee was not working as quickly as I’d like so, I took over the work. It was a tough lesson as the working relationship quickly soured and I had played a big part in that. Patience has been life-long learning for me and working on the puzzle was a good teacher!

Persistence: As I’ve said, this puzzle started out as a big bad pile of pieces, quite frankly, at first glance, it seemed like total chaos. I could have been overwhelmed and quit here, almost did, until I started to get myself as organized as I could with the border. And the overwhelm was ongoing, there were moments when I could feel myself getting frustrated. I kept telling myself “every piece fits someplace and you will eventually find its rightful home. Stick with it.” When it got too frustrating, I would walk away and come back at a later time. This is life. Sometimes it takes a great deal of persistence to achieve something, to complete something. We get knocked down or sidetracked, we get back up, dust off and get back to it. We persist.

Perspective: Okay, this is voodoo stuff. I’m serious. I’d be searching for that one elusive piece for what seemed like forever. I was like a dog with a bone – completely focused. But could not find the damn piece and could feel my impatience growing. So, I’d walk away and come back hours or even a day later. I’d come back to the table, sit down and look around for a few seconds, pick up a piece and place it in the EXACT place I’d been unsuccessful at before. Has this ever had that happen to you? Spooky, hey? Or sometimes I would get fixated on a certain color and then when I let go of the color and focused on the shape, I’d quickly see the piece I needed. My guess is that there was no witchcraft at play, rather this was about perspective, about seeing the pieces from a different angle, a different vantage point. One of my favorite tools in coaching is inviting clients to see a problem or situation from several different and opposing perspectives. Often when we get stuck in one perspective, well, we get stuck. Looking at things from different perspectives can open up more for us to access in terms of moving forward.

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