Positively puzzled; lessons from a jigsaw un-enthusiast

I’ve never enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles. People are always slightly surprised when they learn that about me. I think it’s my ‘head down, bum up’ work ethic, or maybe my love of organisation and being methodical that makes people think they’d be my kind of thing. But my mum will attest that even from a young age when puzzles consisted of no more than 5 or 6 brightly coloured pieces, I just had no time for them.

Then many years ago my HR team had a 'team jigsaw' on a table in our area. We used it as a way to decompress after tense meetings or challenging phone calls or if we just needed mental space to process something. I can’t say it kindled a love of puzzles, but I certainly saw the benefits of calming the noise in my mind and just focusing on that one task.

Last year my mum gave a few of her puzzles so I could work on completing one and enjoy some time-out while my baby was sleeping. ‘A way to just enjoy the quiet’ I think was how she phrased it. I wasn’t super convinced, but I sacrificed half my dining table and started one.

To be honest I think mum just liked having them out so she had something to do when she was down while my dad monopolised the baby. My sarcastically loaded comments weren’t even enough to get her to stop doing them while I wasn’t around! But when I got the chance to make a coffee and just sit quietly and focus on nothing for a while, it was actually really nice. And I noticed I was getting a little bit better at doing them. Finding my own little methods and tricks.

But as my wee man got bigger, the puzzles had to be put away because he discovered how to climb onto the dining table and loves nothing more than flicking puzzle pieces across the room.

I’ve been living with a lot of stress and uncertainty for many months now. Usually I can shake it; I’m a pretty positive person by nature, but my resilience is low and my usual resources aren’t there. I needed a way to quieten my mind, so a few weeks back I decided I’d get a jigsaw out. My husband had bought me a few REALLY hard ones for Christmas a few years back (see told you people presume I like them) and I had one left to complete.

It’s been a work in progress for a long time. It’s hard to find time and energy to focus on it, plus it’s packed away from the destructive hands of a certain 2.5ft terror, so I can’t just stop and do a bit when I wander past.

Today I had a low day. You know the days where every word you type is wrong. Where your focus flits from one task to another but nothing gets achieved. I felt like I’d been steamrolled, and all the positivity had been squeezed right out of me. I hate these days. I gave up working earlier than usual this morning because I felt so ineffectual. I told my husband he could log into his work day while I took charge of Elliott a bit earlier.

Normally I log back in and work for 1.5-2 hours while Elliott has his lunchtime nap, but I just couldn’t muster the energy today. So I rolled out my jigsaw (yeah, I have one of those felt mat things now so I can move well out of toddler reach).

I spent a nice 90 minutes in my own zone, quietly puzzling away while the dogs and the kiddo slept nearby. But I got to a point where I felt lost. I have all these undefined pieces to fit. This mess of rocks where every piece looks different and yet somehow the same. This is where I usually come unstuck and hand the reins to the jigsaw master herself, my mum. So I stopped and put it away. I just didn’t have the patience for it today.

Over the course of the afternoon I reflected on how the things I dislike about jigsaws are the same things I’m finding so challenging in my life right now. I am living in my own 1000-piece small business puzzle! I know it sounds odd, but stick with me here!

  • I have a nice glossy vision of what my ideal business will be some day. It’s the lovely detailed picture on the front of the jigsaw box.

  • I have decisions I need to make, issues I need to handle, things I need to learn, connections I need to make and content I need to create... These are my puzzle pieces. My ideal vision broken up into a thousand small pieces that I have to sift through and put together.

  • I started with the big obvious chunks like building my website, updating my LinkedIn profile, getting some nice headshots taken, drafting a business plan. These are those nice sections of the puzzle that are easy to put together, the ones you start with because the pieces have unique markings and features that make them easy to connect.

  • And now I’ve hit the stuff I don’t know what to do with, the stuff I don’t feel confident about. Things like marketing strategy, SEO, defining my ideal client, making authentic sales pitches, pricing. These are the puzzle sections I particularly hate; the blurry landscape or sky. The bits I don’t have a real strategy for. The bits where I constantly pick pieces up and put them back down and get frustrated with because they don’t seem to fit anywhere. But I know the puzzle is incomplete without them.

When I do a jigsaw and get to the tricky bits I usually give up and pack it away. I don’t know how to do those bits, so just giving up sounds better than slogging away.

And I realised that’s exactly where I’m at with Zest. The pretty picture on the box is in my mind and I’ve managed to complete the easier sections of the puzzle. Now I’m tackling the tough stuff. But instead of just packing it away in a fit of rage (which is what I REALLY wanted to do today), I have to keep plugging away. I have to persevere with the puzzle I started.

So today, with both my actual puzzle and my Zest puzzle, I’ve resolved to:

  • pick up every piece and try it in every spot.

  • pull sections apart and redo them because one of the pieces I fit originally may be wrong.

  • acknowledge that there will be days I have to walk away and leave it because I don’t have the patience to sit and focus properly, and that’s ok.

  • refer back to the glossy image on the box and remind myself of the amazing thing I’m trying to create.

I still don’t love puzzles, but I’m enjoying the process of figuring them out.

I saw a great post the other day about how anyone can be a good golfer on a fairway, but the true test of a golfer occurs when they play the rough.

What unexpected life lessons have you gained from your hobbies??

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