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The Perfect Piece

As a little girl, the things I dreamed of accomplishing as an adult were different than most other children. Instead of imagining my future career, spouse, and home or dreaming about my wedding day, there were little things I envisioned for myself. A tree house for my kids. My own space in the woods where I could run wild like I did as a child, spending hot summer days free to play in the river bottoms and fishing whenever I pleased. A horse in the backyard. A table with a puzzle on it at all times.

Our boys are finally at an age where I could start leaving a puzzle unattended on the kitchen table without it being destroyed. On a recent trip, Phillip and I bought a 1,000 piece puzzle as a souvenir in hopes it would provide some cheap entertainment as well as remind us of our vacation. I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, games, and a good round of trivia, but I was surprised how immediately rewarding this interest has become.

As someone who naturally can drift to obsessive tendencies if left to my own devices, there is a calm that comes from the organization it takes to work on a puzzle. First, sorting out the edge pieces. Then by color, then pattern. Then by shape. It gives me something to focus my energy on while my brain unwinds from a long day. Instead of unleashing my need to organize on the house as soon as I hit the door, I can work on the puzzle while dinner cooks and somehow the clutter around me bothers me less. I have a place to put that energy that doesn’t affect others and gives us something to do together (especially my poor husband who will never understand my compulsion to have clear surfaces in our living space!).

Working on a puzzle requires a level of thinking that gives me an open door to ideas but consumes my attention enough not to spin into the more natural but stressful theoretical, hypothetical, what-ifs that can leave me drained. One night I was stuck on a particularly difficult section of the puzzle and started reflecting on the problem. I had a piece that looked like it fit exactly where I was trying to put it, but no matter what I did, it just wouldn’t click. I’d stand back to get a bigger picture view, which only made it seem more obvious that there was no other place this piece could possibly go. I’d move it slightly different ways to see if I could make it fit but with no luck. I finally was too frustrated and walked away for the night.

With a fresh perspective the next day, I picked up in another section and kept on working. Just when I least expected it, I accidentally found a different piece that was a perfect fit for the problem spot I had worked on the night before. What had seemed unimaginable to my logic at the time was correct all along- I was trying to force something that wasn’t supposed to fit.

How many times do we see one small piece of a puzzle and in our limited view, convince ourselves that this is the only solution? The job we have to have? The perfect relationship that must work out? The big break that will set the rest of your future success in motion?

One of the most devastating moments in my career came when I didn’t get a job I thought was a perfect fit. I had all the qualifications the organization was looking for, carefully crafted my resume and cover letter, and prepared my portfolio for an interview that would never come. I couldn’t help but wonder what was the use of all my hard work if I wasn’t a fit for this position? Soon after this I found my place with a new organization and never would have advanced into my role today if I had gotten what I thought was a dream job. I’ve been pushed to my limits and beyond, learned more than I ever thought possible, and never would have imagined how much I’d grow in just a few short years. It’s incredible to think how much I almost missed if I had been offered that interview I thought I wanted.

I’ve learned to enjoy puzzles so much because it reminds me that I do not hold the power I sometimes like to think I do. My job is to take the pieces I’ve been given and put them into the complete picture that is the best version of myself. This mindset comes with the realization that the right things for us rarely have to be forced. Yes, you may have to do hard work and seize opportunities you are given, but insisting that something fit just because we want it will ultimately hold us back. It will keep that piece from fitting somewhere else where it is truly needed. It will distort the overall picture you are trying to create. It will cause you to miss what path could have been there before your will was exerted.

What are you forcing in your life? A career path? A friendship? A promotion? Why do you feel the need to hang on to this attachment? What would happen if you let it go and opened up the space for another opportunity to arise?

Like this topic? Here are some great articles that dive into the issue on a deeper level:

Experience: What You Get When You Don’t Get What You Want

Are You Forcing Your Life or Living Your Life?

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