Life Design Foundations

Piecing Together the Grand Puzzle of Life

July 20, 2021
5 min read

Do you like puzzles? I quite like them, though it does depend on the context. I recall completing a puzzle of the London Underground last Christmas and feeling a sense of immense pride as the last piece slotted into that 1000 piece puzzle. (Granted, I did join part way through and may have only contributed to slotting in the last 100 pieces or so!)

Now, being someone who is naturally reflective by nature I got to wondering what the puzzle pieces of life looked like. What does a completed puzzle look like? Could you even complete the puzzle? How many pieces were there?

So many questions sprung up and they remained in the back of my mind… until now.

Life as a series of puzzles

When we come into this world we don’t know much about it. We start gathering data about our surroundings as we move through our formative years. We become aware of things around us using our five senses.

Stove = Hot

Water = Wet

Cookies = Tasty

This is the equivalent of the puzzle for ages 3+. It’s one all of us have completed and moved on from.

One way I like to see life is as a series of progressively more challenging puzzles. As kids we complete the ‘Navigating School’ puzzle. Then as adults we are presented with lots of different puzzles to choose from. The 'Learning to Life Alone' puzzle, the 'Financial Indepence' puzzle and personally my least favourite, the ‘Office Politics’ puzzle.

How skilled you are at puzzles will determine how quickly you move through them and the ones you choose next. If you've lacked support and guidance along the way you still may be stuck at the 'Learning to Life Alone'. And that's OK. The key is to keep coming back to them and filling in the pieces as you go.

We are all working on multiple puzzles at once. Once we move out and get a job we don't suddenly have our shit together. Whilst making money there are still many aspects of our lives we are trying to figure out. When you get stuck in one puzzle try a different one.

If you're struggling to make your relationships work at the moment, focus on another area of your life and then come back to it at a later date. If you're sick of being a health freak and only eating kale smoothies then take a break from it and focus your energy on something else.

Over time as you fill in one puzzle you will see patterns that help you fill in the other ones you are working on.

The Grand Puzzle of Life

All the while we have a larger puzzle we are trying to complete. The puzzle of life itself. The puzzle of trying to figure out why are we here and what we really want out of life.

The puzzle of life - how to make sense of life and piece together its meaning

This puzzle has you working on a very different canvas. The boundaries are less clear and you are working with many, many more pieces.

The good news is, that by filling in other puzzles you are also filling in this ‘Grand Puzzle of Life’. It is through experiencing all the things that Life has to offer from a place of conscious awareness that we begin to unravel Life’s mysteries.

Tackling this puzzle isn’t like the ones you faced earlier in your life. You are no longer in the domain of the five senses. You need to turn within and rely on a sixth sense. Tap into your instinct, introspection, intuition… whatever you want to call it.

You are in the realm of personal meaning making. What makes life meaningful to you? What lights you up? Who do you want to be in this lifetime? The experiences you have throughout your life will help you gain clarity on these questions.

One of the best ways to know who you are, is to know who you are not. - Neale Donald Walsh

Picking up the next puzzle

Moving between puzzles can be a confusing an disorienting process. At one point in your life you were probably clear on what you wanted: a secure job, a house, and money to buy nice things.

However, upon acquiring those things you will probably experience a little voice in the back of your mind asking: ‘is this it’? This is your invitation to put the current puzzle in a frame on the wall and move onto the next one.

And as you do, you’ll find that this one looks very different to the last.

You may feel ungrounded as the things you use to do now no longer bring the same pleasure. You no longer feel happy buying nice things, or going to fancy restaurants.

But in a bid for normality you may try to complete the same puzzle over and over again. It’s no surprise that you’re not going to experience the same satisfaction the second or third time around.

Expect disorientation and frustration

When you accept the challenge of the next puzzle you may go through a rude awakening. Suddenly life isn’t as small and clear-cut as you had thought.

It’s messy and complicated and exceedingly unfair for some people. As you try to make sense of it you will likely go through a period of frustration. You may even blame the people around you or the puzzle maker (Life) itself.

Suddenly your expertise in your previous area of life is no longer as relevant. You could be experiencing this when changing careers, navigating a break up, or becoming a parent. (It has been well documented that babies do not respond well to PowerPoint).

The puzzle of parenting - 21st century edition - now somehow even more complicated!

The rules of the game have stayed the same, yet the playing field has dramatically changed. You now need to orient yourself to your new surroundings, find your North Star, and gradually figure out how to tackle the new puzzle you are confronted with.

Taking on the Next Puzzle

When you find yourself at this point is it important to learn as much as you can about the new puzzle you are working with. Be openminded. Seek guidance from those that are older and wiser than yourself. Look for others who are in the same position as you. Guaranteed, they do exist.

Connecting this back to the Seasons of Life model, this point would correlate to Winter. At this stage, you draw within and build your inner reserves. You explore new ideas, learn as much as you can, and formulate a plan of attack.

One of the biggest obstacles you’ll face is letting go of the old. For example, if you were a sales manager who is now looking to move into a new field of work, there will be a temptation to go back to your old industry and old way of life. Letting go of your past life and starting anew is never easy.

Sometimes there will be a smooth transition, while at other times it may be more challenging. What’s important when you move into a new chapter of your life is that you build on what you’ve accomplished up until this point. Don’t throw the old puzzle away. Use the knowledge you gained in completing it in your next puzzle. Undoubtedly, you will need it.

Making Sense of the Grand Puzzle of Life

What is the point of life? In my view it is to keep filling in the ‘Grand Puzzle of Life’. One piece at a time.

How many pieces does this puzzle have? 100k? 1 million? Maybe an infinite number. This begs the question of whether it can it even be completed. I suggest you don't get hung up on this question.

Regardless of the size of the puzzle, I found that the greatest joy of completing puzzles is not found from placing that final piece and looking upon the glory of the finished puzzle.

Rather, from my direct experience, the most joy came from working side-by-side with my girlfriend and her family on the puzzle. Placing the final piece was satisfying, but it would have been meaningless without everything that had gone before.

Perhaps we could apply the same philosophy to the way we experience life. The challenges we face, the hardships we experience, and the joy we spread are all pieces we are placing in the ‘Grand Puzzle of Life’.

So, instead of fixating on completing our puzzle as fast as possible within our own rooms, let’s bring people along for the ride and work towards completing it together.

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