Sort the Pieces to Solve the Puzzle

“The world is a puzzle, and we cannot solve it alone.”
― Lemony Snicket

There were 1,000 pieces inside the box, and I watched with fascination as my friend and her daughter took the wheel to transform the pieces into the picture on the front of the box. Maybe their brains just process what’s in front of them differently than mine does. Maybe they had someone help them in their early days of working puzzles so they now think through things differently. Whatever it is, I wanted to help, but it was clear that my approach was not too effective. It was not going to be easy for me, not on my own.  I think life is very similar to the jigsaw puzzle. Snicket’s words make me think. Just like solving a jigsaw puzzle, solving life’s puzzles will be much more successful if we don’t go it alone.

Taking a recent Friends and Family tour to see 3 people in 3 states, jigsaw puzzles seemed to continue popping up, and when something keeps appearing in front of you, it’s a good time to consider the possible lesson.

Life gets full of activities and choices for how to spend our time whether we are working or just managing our free time. Sometimes, all of the choices feel like the pieces of 1,000 Piece Puzzle, and it can be overwhelming. I know you can relate — the movie you want to watch, the scrapbook you want to make, the laundry you need to wash/fold/put away, the trails you want to hike, the car you want to work on, the friends you want to see. There are only 24 hours in every day, and if 6-9 of those are spent sleeping, it can be difficult to decide how to spend the other 15-18 hours.

When I saw the jigsaw puzzle, I was overwhelmed, when you and I see life’s options in front of us, dumped out like a pile of puzzle pieces, we are overwhelmed. I’ve decided that people who do well with the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle seem to do well with the pieces of life’s puzzles, so I’ve done some investigating to learn the best ways to work one kind of puzzle in hopes of working others well.

Solving Jigsaw Puzzles

  1. Choose the puzzle based on what you like, what your skill level is, and who you’d like to have help you build it.
  2. Decide what you want to do with the puzzle when you finish it. (I like to think of Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind.”)
  3. Set aside your space — make sure you have large enough table for the size puzzle you’ve chosen and can easily cover it if you need to use the table for other things.

Those seem to be the top three things to do before buying a puzzle. Wow! If I put that in terms of things going on in life, I think it might look like this:

Solving Life’s Puzzles

  1. Choose the project/activity based on what you enjoy doing, what your skill level is, and who you might enjoy working with (remember how Snicket said we can’t solve puzzles alone?).
  2. Choose the project/activity with the thought of what you hope to accomplish, what the end will look like.
  3. Choose the project/activity thinking of the space in your life it will require. Do you want to jump into a project that will require most of your free time for the next year? Maybe the answer is yes, (like having a child means you’re signing on to a ‘project’ for at least 18 years, but really forever) but give it some thought as you are looking at all of the choices offered.

Hard to believe we haven’t even begun to work the puzzle and have already needed to do so much, but that’s the key to most things, isn’t it? Preparation.

Once you have the puzzle box in front of you, the best plan (based on what I’ve read and what I’ve observed) is this:

  1. Sort the pieces. Sort edge pieces and by color (one person I watched used a paper plate for each major color).
  2. Build the edge first to give yourself a frame.
  3. Try to build small areas (preferably corners) based on the picture on the box (follow that picture as your guide).
  4. If you get stuck, move to a different area, but come back later, even if you need to get someone to help.
  5. Finish the puzzle, even and especially with the help of a friend.

I feel like I just went through the steps to succeed in life. I guess Lemony Snicket really did understand that our world is like a puzzle. Let’s see if we can transfer the steps for completing a puzzle into terms that work for the puzzles in our world and in our life:

  • Sort your items — things you need to accomplish for your job, things you need to accomplish for your home, and things you’d like to do because no one wants to work all the time.
  • Give yourself a frame within which you can work. Maybe you set a timer for an hour, or you’ll let someone know you only have a month to commit to helping.
  • Continue to check back to the big picture of what you hoped to accomplish. Small bites will accomplish a lot, and when you are going off track, you’ll have that reminder of where you wanted to be.
  • If you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or over your head in what you’ve taken on, ask someone to help you.
  • Finish what you start, even (maybe, especially) if it means asking for help.

We don’t have to work a puzzle alone, and we don’t need to try to solve the world’s problems alone. Granted, there are too many committee meetings where people talk too much and for too long, but overall, it is in these times of being together that we solve problems. I invite you to work a jigsaw puzzle this week and then try to solve a problem in your own life, or even in our world, and maybe (especially) with the help of a friend.

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