Over a year ago, I found myself feeling that a piece of the joy puzzle had been misplaced from my life. Turning on the news or flipping through a magazine, I heard about the 60s being the new 40s, women ‘having it all’ and starting a new chapter in your life. Where was I to turn when midlife realities were setting in amidst being a woman in my forties, who felt like a woman in her forties, trying to escape a busy world without a complete makeover, but still desiring new challenges and adventures in a simple life of joy. To my amazement, my missing piece of joy was found over the last year in the creation of this blog, enjoying the blogs of others and the weekly challenge and adventure of finding words and pictures to capture my curiosity about life and enjoyment. I still have days of dreams of traveling around the world and pursuing a graduate degree studying cultural history or cultural anthropology, but it is exciting that while I dream I can actually explore my love of reading, photography, music, movies, history, cultures and travel through blogs. On my one year anniversary of blogging, I am thankful for those who have encouraged me and all the unknown bloggers who have inspired me in something that has become a complete joy in my life.
Following is the piece I wrote that gave me the courage to begin this blogging journey and puzzles of joy created from photographs taken over the last year.
JIGSAW PUZZLES OF LIFE
Upon the completion of a 1,000 piece puzzle of a French Village, a few days were spent enjoying the finished picture before the task of taking the puzzle apart and putting the pieces back in the box commenced. As the puzzle pieces slipped through my fingers into the box, slowly my thoughts turned to how often our lives appear similar to a jigsaw puzzle. We spend a lifetime collecting pieces to our jigsaw puzzles of life. There are pieces from childhood, adolescence, family, college, careers, relationships, responsibilities, adventure, sports, hobbies, etc. At times the collection of these different puzzle pieces are exciting, fulfilling and come together effortlessly, but at other times you may begin to question the collection of a particular puzzle piece or experience struggles and dissatisfaction while trying to make the pieces connect in your life. There are also occasions when new pieces are discovered, such as blogging, and a decision is made to expand your current life puzzle to include new challenges and adventures. I have discovered that often in life I created my puzzles around pieces that were not planned because I did not have the confidence or vision to build the framework I desired or the conviction to follow my dreams. How wonderful it would have been starting out in my twenties if I had viewed life as a jigsaw puzzle and had taken more time to discover what pieces suited my interests and personality in anticipation of all the wonderful jigsaw puzzles of life that awaited me.
Throughout ones life there will be many different types of puzzles and the pieces will change as life circumstances and interests change. A puzzle you begin in your twenties will not have the same pieces as the one you begin in your forties. Each time we complete a phase in life it resembles the steps for completing a jigsaw puzzle. The jigsaw puzzle steps are first deciding on the type and size of the puzzle and your work area. The next step is separating the pieces and putting together the framework. After the frame is in place you then begin grouping together pieces by color. Once you have separated the different color groups you can begin filling in the interior and complete your puzzle. Once completed, you decide if you will preserve or discard the puzzle. The process of completing our jigsaw puzzle of life contains similar stages. You start with a blank slate and then start identifying all the pieces you desire for your life puzzle. Once the pieces are identified and collected you can begin assembling the framework, dividing the individual pieces by importance and categories and begin placing all the puzzle pieces together in hope of creating a beautiful life puzzle.
Beginning a jigsaw puzzle of life is a different experience for every individual. Some people have a plan right from the get-go and move from one stage to the next completely focused. Some individuals may find it impossible to choose a life puzzle to start and discover it feels similar to when you search the Amazon website for a jigsaw puzzle to purchase and discover there are 68,000 puzzles to choose from and, after not finding the one you want in the first fifty, you decide not to order. You may be overwhelmed with all the options of life and find it impossible to choose a plan for your life. Others may be able to choose a puzzle but never be able to focus on a plan to complete the puzzle. This is similar to when you start a jigsaw puzzle and leave it unfinished on the card table for weeks and discover your folded laundry is now covering the puzzle. You may at some point find some missing pieces in the sock drawer, but you may never realize something is missing because you have not been focusing on your life. Sometimes a person may never understand when looking at a box full of mysterious pieces how they will ever manage to connect the pieces, and due to fear or lack of a plan, they never even start the puzzle. Every person carries their own experiences, temperament and personality and each person has to decide what type of lifestyle puzzle they find interesting and then begin assembling the pieces to achieve that lifestyle. Sometimes the decision of where to begin your life puzzle is based on life skills. A childhood of dysfunction and divorce could require starting a simple life puzzle or in the jigsaw puzzle world, the 100 piece cat puzzle. The driven individual, without regard to life skills, may always desire a ten-year life plan puzzle or in the jigsaw puzzle world, the 2,500 piece cloud puzzle. It is also important to recognize your comfort zone in life and be content with the 300 piece puzzles you enjoy instead of the 1,000 piece puzzles you find too difficult. Luckily it does not matter what type of life puzzle you choose, only that you begin the puzzle.
After you finally have your workspace and the picture of the puzzle you want to achieve it is time to evaluate the pieces. The easiest place to begin is by building the framework. What frame do you want to encompass the pieces and what four corner pieces will be central in connecting the framework. The corner pieces could represent family, career, faith, interests, a special person or your dreams. Are you looking for a career, family, or adventure? Do you crave freedom or are you looking for suburbia security? Do you like the city life, country life or living on a sailboat where adventure is always right underneath your feet? Is college part of the plan, or are you focused on pursuing that music career in Austin or are you an aspiring pastry chef that wants to join the foodie scene in Portland? Are you the accountant with the heart of a writer? Do you want to start small or dream big? Who do you want included in the puzzle? Once you have identified your corner pieces and have an idea for the framework of your life puzzle, the next step is to identify what pieces you are going to gather for the next stage of filling in the puzzle.
When filling in the puzzle, there will be pieces that represent your interests, basic responsibilities of life, friends, family, and romantic interests. One group of pieces could represent your livelihood, finances and obligations. Another group could include your home, hobbies, vacations and sports. Other pieces will represent your dreams, disappointments, and faith. After you identify all the groups, it will be necessary to picture where they will be placed and how the they will fit together. Unlike completing a jigsaw puzzle which requires you to follow the picture on the box, in your life jigsaw puzzle you can decide where to place the pieces within the frame. Do your dreams and love go into the center of the puzzle or will you place basic responsibilities and obligations at the center? Will more pieces be in the section with hobbies, adventure, vacations and romantic interests or will the pieces that dominate the puzzle be career, faith and family? Just like the jigsaw puzzle that requires you to use all the pieces in the box, life puzzles also require you to include all the pieces, that means the good and the bad. You cannot remove a group of pieces and have a completed jigsaw puzzle. It would be wonderful if we could remove disappointments and pain from our life puzzle, but then the puzzle would not be complete. All we can hope is that they comprise a smaller part of the puzzle.
There is always the possibility when you begin working on a plan that complications may arise. Some of these complications could be difficulty finding a job after completing your college degree that has left you with student loan debt, a low paying job not in your field of study and living back home with your parents. Other complications could be taking the corporate job after college and discovering you are suffocating in cubicle hell, choosing an unhealthy relationship or dead-end job, or finding yourself stuck in a simple life puzzle you have chosen that never works out. You next may find yourself trying to jump-start a dead puzzle or trying to gather the courage to walk away from an unhealthy one. When you are working on a jigsaw puzzle that completely frustrates you, it is very simple to just throw the puzzle away and start a new one the same day. Unfortunately, this simplicity does not occur when you have spent years working towards a life plan that hits a road block. These types of life puzzle complications require an honest reevaluation of what you are hoping to achieve. It may be time to expand your job search criteria and look at the possibility of finding roommates so you can move out of your parents home. After realizing the corporate environment does not suit you, you may decide to go back to college to obtain a teaching certificate or decide you would like to work in a nonprofit setting. Just like a career choice that may need to be changed, an unhealthy relationship choice may also need to be changed and ended. Many of the complications may work themselves out once you adjust for the roadblocks and embrace the detour you have had to take. Unfortunately, if the detour leads to a new or the same dead-end, how long will it take you to realize how much of yourself or your puzzle you have lost desperately clinging to a disappointing career or unhealthy relationship that steals away pieces of your spirit on a daily basis. Consider the image of walking by your card table and throwing away a handful of puzzle pieces daily with the knowledge you are destroying the puzzle. Now consider the image of the pieces of your spirit and dreams you are throwing away on a daily basis because you will not walk away from a disappointing career or unhealthy relationship. With the jigsaw puzzle you will reach the point where you know the puzzle is destroyed because you have thrown away all the pieces, but in life will you know the day you need to stop throwing away the pieces of your dreams and spirit before you are forced into settling for a puzzle you are stuck in with nothing of yourself remaining.
Starting out in life you often have sole control over the course of your life puzzle. Your lifestyle plan may continue to be the single life, but many will choose at some point to build a life with a partner. Once this decision is made, the dynamics of your life puzzle will change because now it will be two different individuals working the same life puzzle. The framework and pieces for the future will now be based on both of your interests, priorities and personalities. Where you choose to live, do both of you want children or pets, how will the finances and household be ran, where will you vacation, how will you combine the extended families and what are your plans for retirement. Working a jigsaw puzzle with a partner can be easily achieved when you have agreed on how you will complete the puzzle. You may both agree on how to separate the pieces and how the colors will be separated, but what happens if you fight over who will be putting the framework together or if one of you becomes tired of working on the sky and wants to start working on the mountains. Will your pieces flow easily together or will their be constant tension trying to interlock your pieces? Is compromise a part of this jigsaw puzzle team or will you throw your pieces on the table and walk away? Relationships begin with that wonderful high so filled with perfection and emotions run amok. Do you emerge from the initial six month high to discover your perfect soul mate or were you so consumed with passion and excitement you failed to notice you and your soul mate may have a few differences regarding your lifestyles, interests and priorities. Just like the jigsaw puzzle team, the life partners will have to decide on how far they are willing to compromise to build a framework large enough to encompass both parties desires.
It is a major achievement to complete a puzzle, but there are times when you will approach the end of the puzzle and realize that your dog ate a piece of the puzzle and the picture is not complete. Can you still enjoy the picture you have created or will you always be looking at the piece that is missing? In life, can you be at peace with your puzzle if something is missing? There will be instances when a loved one is missing, health or finances are not good, a relationship has failed, or the regret of not taking that trip to Europe or finishing the degree you started. Can you still enjoy your life puzzle or do you destroy the puzzle because it will never be complete to you? A wonderful feature of life is that you still have time to start another puzzle. Throughout life you will not be able to go back and change a previous puzzle or necessarily have the same pieces available for your present puzzle, but you can try to create a new puzzle that will possibly bring you peace with the former missing pieces and a focus on a new beginning.
A completed puzzle can remain on your card table for a time for in order to view the picture with enjoyment. You experience a sense of accomplishment and complete satisfaction with the puzzle you have completed, but unfortunately someone walks by and knocks over your glass of hard cider onto the puzzle and it is ruined. Is it possible to soak up the cider and try to salvage the puzzle or will you just toss it in the garbage? This happens in life puzzles when you have been enjoying the life you have built and something or someone comes along and destroys your life. This can happen when your twenty-five year happy marriage is destroyed by betrayal, a sudden death in the family, or an illness that changes every aspect of your life. The difficulties in being forced from a puzzle you love into a new puzzle centered on so much pain, anger and helplessness, can force an individual into a depression that leaves them incapable of ever having the trust or strength to attempt another puzzle. Unlike the jigsaw puzzle that may retain a semblance of its former picture after you use a towel to soak up the coffee, there is nothing in life that can soak up the pain of betrayal, death and illness quickly enough to retain the same life you had loved. Sometimes only time can heal wounds and as you progress through the five stages of grief, your life puzzles will change focus and hopefully the event that smashed your puzzle will not have destroyed you but only made you stronger as you rebuild your life and look to begin a new puzzle.
What happens if over time as you walk by the completed puzzle on the table that you initially viewed with enjoyment you begin to feel bored and dissatisfied with the puzzle. The puzzle you planned to glue and frame on completion now appears to be headed back into the box. This also happens in life when you become stuck in a phase of your life that no longer brings satisfaction, enjoyment and challenges. How long do you continue pursuing the phase designed by your framework and pieces when it no longer holds your interest? Is the first step another puzzle or should the first step be analyzing why the puzzle failed so you do not build your next life phase on similar pieces? A new jigsaw puzzle challenge may require switching from landscape to 3D or mystery puzzles. Pursuing new enjoyment and challenges in your life puzzle may require a career change, new hobby or the recognition of relationship issues. Another thing to be careful of is becoming a codependent puzzle person, which can occur when someone in your home is working on a puzzle and as you walk through the room you cannot stop yourself from completing a few pieces of someone else’s puzzle. This codependency can lead to waking up one day and realizing you were more interested in other people’s puzzles than developing and completing your own. The disappointment you experience from not developing your own puzzle is magnified when you realize that the work that went into another person’s puzzle was unappreciated, unrecognized or unwanted.
Once the puzzle is finished it is time to decide how you want to preserve the puzzle. I have puzzles of a French Village, a Historic Newsstand, Bestseller Books, and a recent puzzle gift of my Yorkie, Gabby, in our Jeep. I love reading, cruising in my Jeep throughout the summer with Gabby and would love to visit France, so whenever I look at these puzzles I enjoy the pictures. Life is very similar in how we enjoy and preserve our memories. Your first love puzzle may be the type you keep on a piece of cardboard under the bed in the spare room to look at occasionally and laugh at your youth, while your marriage and family puzzle may be glued and framed on the wall. There is the life puzzle that started with such promise but ended in disappointment and failure and you threw it back in the box and then threw it in the back of the closet. The hope is that even if the puzzle ended up not looking as you planned, there were enough good experiences and growth building the puzzle that it will influence and improve building the next puzzle frame. The first few puzzles may not turn out like you expect, but there is always hope the next puzzle will have the framework and pieces that fit together seamlessly to create a life puzzle that is worthy of the strongest glue to hold together and a special place in your heart to hang.