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Lessons Learned From a 1000 Piece Puzzle

Life lessons gained piece by piece

I’m sure I am just one of the many people hunching over tiny pieces of uniquely shaped cardboard, trying to find the way in which they fit and become whole. This puzzle, that I decided to finally attempt, has been hidden inside what we call our “craft closet” for years. This puzzle of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has been waiting 8 years to be unboxed and hovered over. No one seemed to have the time, nor the dedication a 1000 piece puzzle demands, until now. Time, which was once scarce is now plentiful. So, I poured out the tiny pieces onto my dining room table and got to work. I had a mission: to create order out of what seemed like an incohesive mess. I never expected the interesting life lessons that began to unfold.

The key to conquering a 1000 piece puzzle is to start by piecing together the border, the outer frame. Like many things in life, the beginning is not so daunting. Finding all the pieces with a straight edge is doable, fun, and encouraging. You begin to feel like “you got this.” But once the frame is in place, that’s when the remaining massive pile of pieces starts to look impossible and pretty much overwhelming. Walking away is tempting, but I stayed. I did not abandon this seemingly unimportant mission. I visited daily and began to divide and conquer.

I created small piles of pieces and grouped them by color. I started piecing together Ariel’s red, voluminous hair and suddenly, her body followed. I was proud. I endured and Ariel emerged. But now there were 900 pieces of varying shades of blue and gray that I had to sort out. It seemed unlikely that I would make sense of this mess and that I would ever complete it. Except I did. It took three weeks of daily visits, short bursts before bed, and little by little, the pieces were coming together. I was putting order to this chaos. Often I’d go to bed and as I closed my eyes, my brain was still sorting pieces and flipping shapes and tirelessly attempting to piece this puzzle together. Even when I reached the point where only a handful of pieces remained, there were still challenges. The pieces looked unrelated, a bit off in color, a bit large, or a tad small in comparison to the gaps that begged to be filled. That is what amazed me. Just when I thought these odd pieces would never fit and that I must have lost a crucial bit, I took the misfits, turned them every which way, or even stood up and studied the problem from a different vantage point, and suddenly it all came together. Ariel in the moonlight on the rocks, imagining a whole new world. So, here are some life lessons learned from this 1000 piece puzzle:

The beginning is easy

As the challenges arise, stick with it

Face the overarching challenge by breaking it up into smaller, more feasible acts

Climbing up several small hills is easier than one large mountain

Confidence is gained as you accomplish these small feats

Take a break… but come back

When faced with the impossible take another look, it may make sense at a different angle

If something still doesn’t fit, look for minuscule errors. Rework a section. Small errors can lead to bigger problems down the road

Be patient

Take your time and just finish. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, what counts is that you saw it through

So far our time in quarantine has been an opportunity to reconnect and reevaluate. We are indebted to the doctors, nurses, and all the front-line workers who are fighting this virus and risking their own lives while the majority is just asked to stay home. Treasure this time with your families. We are living in a whole new world. The terrain looks different. Neighborhoods are sprinkled with kids biking and families taking their one of many daily strolls. Supermarkets are only entered while donning masks and gloves. Heroes are not larger than life, but rather they live next door. They are your neighbors who are nurses, doctors, grocery store employees, police officers, mail carriers, and truly the list of people playing a crucial role today is long. Let’s not forget the local small business owners who are drowning. Let’s support them. Order out, take a break from cooking and help keep small business owners afloat. We are all a vital part of this battle against COVID-19. Although physically apart, we are connected in our gratitude to those who are making it possible for us to stay at home and work on puzzles.

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