Some years ago, I met a girl called Maria. She was seven, I was six.
Maria loved jigsaw puzzles more than anything. Other girls had their dolls and pushchairs and plastic jewellery, but all Maria wanted was jigsaw puzzles.
Oh, and books, but that’s another story.
Maria’s father had made her a large wooden board for her to do her latest puzzle on – one she could have at the kitchen table, or on the floor of her room, and he could then lift and slide safely under the sofa when she was done, without having to take the puzzle apart and start again next time.
The pictures on the boxes of the jigsaw puzzles were crucial for Maria’s enjoyment.
When she began a new one, she placed the box at the top of her wooden board so she could see how she wanted the completed puzzle to look, and had something to aim for with the jumble of coloured pieces in front of her.
Piece by piece – beginning with the corners, then the edges between, then all the other pieces in the middle – Maria would enthusiastically complete her puzzles.
She loved how a box of seemingly random shapes could be carefully put together to form a complete picture.
One time, Maria’s older brother crept into the cupboard where she had all her puzzles stacked, and in trying to reach a high shelf, accidently knocked down a dozen boxed puzzles.
Lids went flying, and pieces were scattered everywhere – he was left standing ankle deep in a tiny mountain of carefully cut coloured cardboard shapes.
In his haste to pick them up and not get in trouble, he put the pieces back in the right boxes as best he could, and stacked them back on the shelves.
Later that day, Maria went to the cupboard and got out one of her favourite puzzles.
She took it to her wooden board, placed the lid at the top, and tipped the pieces out in front of her, as she always did. Then she began trying to put it together.
But, though she got it partly done, and some pieces fitted together just right and looked exactly like the picture on the box, other pieces didn’t.
She couldn’t work out why there were six corner pieces, not four, and why there were over 50 edge pieces in a puzzle that only had 60 pieces altogether.
Plus there were pieces with fragments of different characters that weren’t on the box, and would never appear in the same show or jigsaw together.
In short, Maria had no chance of ever finishing that puzzle because many of the pieces didn’t even belong there.
Plus, there were far too many pieces in total to cram into the space within the edges of the puzzle.
Maybe your life feels a little like this?
If the picture on the box is how we’d like our lives to look – the person we want to be, doing the things we love doing – and the pieces in front of us are the different elements of life we need to fit together, that can never happen if we have too many pieces.
Trying to cram in too many pieces is hard enough, but even worse, we can never create that picture if the pieces we’re trying to cram in are from someone else’s puzzle.
Take a look at your life, as it is.
How many of the things you do, how much of your time, is spent doing things you want to do, that you’ve consciously chosen to do?
How much of your creative work is in media that you enjoy and want to explore more of, and the ideas and projects that you want to develop?
How much of your life – as an artist and otherwise – is spent trying to fit in other people’s pieces? Other people’s expectations? Other people’s perceptions of how you should be?
We each need to focus on our own puzzle.
And before you think you can’t so that because it seems selfish, consider this – By being at our happiest and most creative, we’re also most useful to those around us, those we love and who love us, those we lead and who look up to us.
We can’t be at our best if we’re constantly juggling other people’s pieces into places they’re never going to fit. The frustration, resentment and unrest just build and build.
What does your puzzle look like right now? Let us know.
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