The analogy that everyone’s life is a unique jigsaw puzzle that we are blindly building, is the perfect way to explain so many fundamental things. That we’re all fiddling around with different pieces trying to figure out how to create a perfect picture that we can’t yet imagine. That sometimes pieces don’t fit in the puzzle and you have to rearrange them or remove them completely. That different pieces build on one another to create a more detailed, richer part of the puzzle.
Life is exactly like building a jigsaw puzzle, having no idea what the final product will look like.
I didn’t make this up. I’ve borrowed the idea from the comedian Daniel Sloss, who I recommend you go and watch if you haven’t seen him already. He described the analogy that his dad fed him at the tender age of 7, and how that is the reason he is, and probably always will be, single. Happily single, he adds. I agree with the majority of what he says about the jigsaw puzzle of life, but not everything.
In this letter, I want to write about the jigsaw puzzle that is life. My life in particular.
The four corners
The analogy starts off simply. The jigsaw puzzle begins with nothing, but over time you start to build it. You start out with the four corners, the easiest part, which are family, friends, interests and a career. As a child you would start off with your family, move around to friends and pick up some interests and hobbies. As you grow up, elements of this will change and adapt and you’ll eventually begin working on the career aspect of the puzzle.
To me this makes perfect sense. You start working on each of the four corners almost immediately. Everything you do adds a little piece to the puzzle. Sometimes you need to remove a piece to make room for something else. Sometimes pieces from different areas of the puzzle might affect each other, like an interest affecting what job you end up doing, or a family member influencing a hobby.
Up until the point of settling into a job, career or lifestyle, we’re still building the foundations of our puzzle. Even when we are settled, these foundations may still morph and change.
Occasionally, and unfortunately, we might lose a piece that we really love. This throws the puzzle out of joint and leaves a hole. It might affect other pieces of the puzzle and leave more holes or mean that some pieces no longer fit together. It might bond together some pieces even stronger than they were before because of the hole that was created. Most importantly, we have to find some way to fill the hole left by the piece that we sadly lost, otherwise it might sit empty forever.
When I lost my dad, I lost a whole chunk of my puzzle. A chunk that was fundamental to almost every part of my puzzle. It broke up the family corner, tore away some of my interests and changed my whole idea of how my puzzle was developing. A lot of the pieces in the friend corner dropped away because I didn’t want to keep them anymore. The whole puzzle shifted and it will never be the same. The chunk that I lost is still largely empty, but I’m moving things around to build it back up. Over time, the hole is becoming smaller and the puzzle becoming fuller.
Some pieces disappear and you don’t even notice they’ve gone. Something fills them in so quickly and effortlessly that you don’t even feel the emptiness they leave. This might happen with friends and interests that simply cease to be important in the jigsaw.
Areas build up
To create some of the more complex parts of the puzzle, like the career, you have to combine different pieces in different ways to visualise the image. Things you study, experience, make, read, understand and learn might add up to a career. Random pieces might be picked up from other corners which happen to fit to create a new piece. Pieces that evolve from the job might move into other corners like the friends or interests. Each job adds to the last one to continue to build up the corner. The image might start to look more and more different to how you expected with each piece that is added or moved.
When I was at school, I wanted to be an architect. That was how I saw that corner of my puzzle looking. There was never any other plan – just architecture. The subjects that I enjoyed always enforced this and I tried my absolute hardest to get into the perfect course in the perfect place, so that I could be an architect.
At the start of university, it was just as perfect as I expected. I loved my course, my city, my new friends. My jigsaw was looking pretty good.
Then I lost that huge chunk in the corner and with it plenty of other pieces fell on the floor. It looked pretty bare and I started to dislike my course as well. By the end of second year, the career corner was unrecognisable. I no longer wanted to be an architect. It was looking pretty sparse and I had stopped caring. Some of the other parts were beginning to piece back together and my interests and hobbies of travelling were blooming. That was all I really wanted to do.
By the end of third year and at the time of graduation, the whole jigsaw had started to clear up a little. I enjoyed my course so much more and I realised that architecture may be finding its way back into my career corner. However, it was looking even more fruitful because I had plans to do other things as well.
I happened to fall into a job in a company I love, with people I enjoy being around and doing something I am damn good at. Whilst I may not be any where near finishing my career corner, it’s already looking pretty rosy.
The centre piece
This is the key part of Daniel Sloss’ analogy. What is the centre piece? He explains that his dad says that the centre piece is the partner piece. When you find the partner who slots perfectly between the four corners of your puzzle, then it becomes more complete. It ties everything together and you can finally see the image that the puzzle is making up.
Whilst I don’t think Daniel fully agrees with his dad, I think I kind of do. Not in the way that the only way you can finish your jigsaw is to find the partner piece. More in the way that when you do find the perfect partner piece, the jigsaw does look better and is infinitely stronger. With the centre piece you can add to your family corner, build on your friends and create new interests.
One of the things I don’t quite agree with that Daniel says, is that if the piece doesn’t fit absolutely perfectly, then you should remove it. Just because you both have been working on your own jigsaws for your whole life, doesn’t mean they can’t change a little to make room for each others pieces. Sometimes moving some pieces around to make room makes the puzzle even better. You might realise how some pieces can fit slightly differently to make a brighter image.
The number one most important thing about the central partner piece is that it makes the puzzle better. If the central piece starts breaking away at the corners, or creating holes that ruins the jigsaw, then it shouldn’t be there.
Daniel Sloss’ analogy has single-handedly broken up thousands of couples. Some of those have been engagements and marriages. That to me is crazy. It’s a strange mix of wonderful and saddening. It’s sad that people have allowed themselves to stay in relationships that aren’t right. They’ve tried so hard to squeeze that partner piece into their puzzle, and even though it didn’t fit, they left it there anyway. All because they’d rather have a badly fitting piece, than a hole.
A hole in the puzzle isn’t a bad thing. It means there is more room for everything else. While there is no partner piece, some of the hobby pieces might spill into the centre. Maybe it’s pieces from the job corner that become more important, or perhaps it’s the friend pieces that fill up the hole and complete the puzzle.
I think the point is that when you find that perfect piece that slots into the jigsaw and completes the image, it should make the whole image brighter and better. Until you find it, you don’t need it.
Good luck with your jigsaws and I hope they become a little fuller with every day.