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What I Learnt From Completing A 1000-Piece Puzzle

by Chloe Lee. |

During the Movement Control Order (MCO), feeling bored and demotivated led me to an impulsive decision of buying a 1000-piece puzzle. As I waited for my puzzle from thelokamade – a shop that features amazing work from local artists – to arrive, I wondered if I made the wrong choice. I struggled even with 48-piece puzzles (I actually got laughed at by a 5 year old when attempting to solve one once) because I simply did not possess the hand-eye coordination or the gross motor skills needed to be good at this activity. However, I decided to take up the challenge (also because the order was already on the way)!

The box of puzzle arrived and just like every other new venture in life, opening this foreign box (quite literally) was very overwhelming. Before my eyes lay tiny pieces of random colours and patterns that made no sense to me. I remember immediately thinking to myself: I can’t do this. I had no idea where to begin. I took a deep breath and just started…

Through this activity, I learnt that there are situations that are overwhelming at first, but it gets better.

In life, we are often introduced to new settings: new job, new school, new skills, new businesses - and all these changes can be very overwhelming. However, as humans, we have an amazing ability to adapt and we will eventually get the groove of it, we just need to try. We just need to take a deep breath, and slowly and surely begin to make sense of our surroundings and utilize our resources well. On top of that, I realized that having a support system was super important (even though it was just a puzzle) – I would send photos of my progress to be kept accountable! I put one piece next to another, one step at a time, and slowly got the hang of it.

I recognized that a crucial step in puzzle-solving (and also in life) is to be able to identify the big picture. Without the reference of the end-product on the cover of the box, I would have had no clue what to work towards. I looked through all the pieces of puzzles and began to categorize them based on similar patterns. By referring to the cover more regularly, I was also able to understand the context that connected them to each other. For example, instead of a random green pointy thing next to a red box, I could then tell that it is meant to be a part of a tree that is next to the post office. Slowly but surely, I was then able to recognize the picture based on its patterns, the colours, the words or textures – and managed to piece them together.

Identifying the end goal is an important perspective to adopt when tackling tasks or deliverables. Knowing the big picture allows you to think long-term, obtain clarity, spot opportunities and make strategic business decisions. I have learnt the valuable lesson of setting relevant goals and identifying the big picture - be it your personal or professional life, it is important to actively work towards something. As for organizations or teams, it is also essential to communicate this big picture so your employees are working towards the same end-goals.

Of course, my journey to completion wasn’t smooth-sailing just because I referred to the big picture. There were a lot of frustration because some patterns simply did not make sense! I was beginning to wonder if they messed up the packaging and gave me several misfits. It was then that I told myself, “it’s okay to take a break”.

As much as I would have liked to complete it as soon as possible, I realized that my mind was too cluttered to continue. It would have also been counterproductive if I ended up crying out of frustration and never wanted to touch puzzles ever again (dramatic, I know). In fact, when I came back the next day, I felt more refreshed. Suddenly, I am able to spot the pieces I needed, identify where pieces belonged and interpreted patterns better. Just like other areas of life – especially at work – there is a misconception that putting more hours into it would equate to better results. I realize that it really is okay to take a step back to recuperate. Even a 5-minutes break to stretch or take a quick walk can improve your overall health and well-being. In fact, taking breaks in the right manner would actually lead to more productivity.

When I came back feeling refreshed, I was also able to look at it from a different perspective.

Little did I know that the exact piece I was looking for was right in front of me – just rotated in a different angle! Of course, this required active participation by picking the piece up and physically rotating it, but it was more productive than just staring at the pieces and hoping for a sudden Eureka-moment. I might have looked very silly rotating it in different ways, but I got the job done!

I learnt that when tackling different problems or addressing interpersonal relationships, it is important to be flexible and adopt several perspectives or angles. From a business standpoint, having different perspectives creates opportunities for diversity, which leads to more creative ideas and innovative solutions. As for relationships, being able to see things from someone else’s shoes is the exercise of empathy. Empathy makes us be better listeners, and this in turn addresses root issues or causes, and allows us to solve these problems better. 

So far, so good – I was making relatively good progress and am even starting to enjoy this process (and have yet to cry). However, the eagerness of wanting to get it over with led me to unproductive measures. With puzzles, you can tell instantaneously if a piece was the wrong fit – but that didn’t stop me from shoving it into a blank space and hoping it sticks. I had to remember that there are times in life where perseverance would reap positive outcomes.

However, the need to force my way into something simply indicates it's not where it is meant to be.

When I was applying for jobs, receiving emails saying that "unfortunately, there were other applicants with a better fit for this role" was very discouraging, but I ultimately took comfort in recognizing that that company is simply not where I am needed. I also remain hopeful that I will soon find a company that will help me grow to be the person I am meant to be.

There was a big portion of the puzzle that was meant to be the sky, so I was left with two dozen pieces of blue tiles. I don’t have super eyes that could differentiate the subtle differences in the shades of blue, so I had to try to fit a spot piece-by-piece.

Similarly, there will be a lot of trial and error in life.

It is knowing what it means to persevere but also knowing when it is time to stop - which is a delicate balance I am still trying to figure out. However, when you know your end goals (the big picture), you know for a fact that a red tile is not meant to be a part of the blue sky. 

It took me a week (and a lot of hard work), but I can finally now say “I have completed a 1000-piece puzzle”. Despite it being a challenge, perseverance pays off! I am also glad I got to spend time with my mom (she completed 30% of it!) in this process – sometimes you just need the right support system to go through life with you. I am glad to have been able to extract so many important life lessons from this process. Not only am I now better at seeing the big picture, challenging myself to observe different perspectives or allowing myself much-needed breaks, I also learnt that inspiration to learn is everywhere, I just had to pay attention and seize the learning opportunity.

You can also learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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