“Raise your hand if you’re a puzzle person,” I said, shaking a jigsaw puzzle box.
It’s a request I made at the beginning of a staff training I did a couple of years ago. Maybe a third of the hands in the room shot up. Everyone else either shook their heads “no way” or shrugged.
How do you become a puzzle person, I asked? Those who shot their hands up said things like, we did them as a family growing up. My friends and family told me I was good at them. Puzzles take time, sometimes collaboration, and persistence to achieve a goal.
For puzzle people, puzzles are associated with good feelings and success. Those feel-good experiences can contribute to what we we are good at and who we are, or rather, who we think we are. Most of the non-puzzle people simply didn’t grow up doing them or got frustrated a few times and decided (or were told) they weren’t good at them to begin with.
So it goes with many things. From a young age, the things we spend time on and feel successful at (whether we learn that from experiences or what we are told) shape who we think we are and what we say we are good at.
As for me, I was told I was smart, good at school, and naturally skilled at test taking. These didn’t require too much effort from me. I breezed through my early years and took in the accolades.
But, I wasn’t really a puzzle person. I focused on the things that came easily for me, and whatever didn’t come easily I learned to avoid. Unlike many puzzle people, who learn to try, try again, and even set things aside when they get frustrated or stuck and return to the puzzle later, I had little persistence or resilience in the face of adversity.
Well, as of this moment (at my not-so-young age) I am raising my hand and declaring myself a puzzle person.
I am embracing the problems I face as puzzles to be figured out instead.
I don’t have to have it all solved immediately. It doesn’t even have to come easily. As I make myself vulnerable more often and take on bigger, more complicated tasks, I know I have to remind my mind not to get frustrated or shut down. I may have to be coached (which means – eek! – being coachable, which I am decidedly NOT when I am feeling overwhelmed, afraid, or out of my depth). Like riding a bicycle, then trying to do a trick or two, I may flop. The world will not end and I can try again.
I’m shaking life’s box of problems as puzzles, dumping out the pieces, searching for the corners and the edges. I don’t really have a full picture of what it will look like in the end for reference, but that’s all part of the process. It will be beautiful, whatever it becomes.