This website, Finding My Piece of the Puzzle, was officially launched one year ago—so I guess it’s fair to ask, “Have you finally found the piece that you’ve been looking for?”
The short answer is, “No, but I’m getting closer.”
And as you’ve probably realized, we all are finding pieces of our own puzzles.
What is this puzzle?
As I see it, the puzzle is the world around us. By definition, a puzzle…
- …is a problem or situation that may amuse us but also challenges us mentally, and can be difficult to solve.
- …tests our ingenuity or knowledge, requiring persistence in solving or assembling it.
- …is put together in a logical way.
- …can cause you to be confused because you can’t understand or make sense of something.
- …is something you have to think about carefully to answer or put together correctly.
…and as we try to navigate through it, the world, especially today, meets all of those definitions.
Our own piece of the puzzle is how we fit into the big picture. To do that, we need to know what our individual piece looks like—but unlike the puzzles that we put together on our tables at home, our piece in this puzzle goes far beyond surface appearance. That is because in this puzzle of life, a true fit only comes from knowing and living as our authentic selves—not just fitting in for appearance sake. Living to maintain a certain appearance may give you a temporary fit, but eventually authenticity will likely surface and win out—you can’t fake a fit forever! And the sooner you determine what’s authentic about you and live that way, the happier you’ll probably be.
Realizing who we really are takes some time and effort. The process requires us to reflect on our experience and knowledge–digging into what drives us, realizing what makes us happy—and on the flipside, recognizing and owning what makes us unhappy. Self-discovery can be comprised of a process of elimination, too—as in, “Well…I definitely didn’t like that.” Delving into the puzzle in search of the puzzle piece requires patience and persistence. Patience is inherent in self-examination because it takes time to review and analyze, but as they say, the truth can hurt. The process is also compounded by the fact that the world around us is dynamic, and that our fit depends upon our stage in life—so the puzzle gets bigger and appears differently to us as we age. You can—and probably should, however—take a snapshot of the puzzle from time-to-time, and really reflect upon it. These snapshots are our stages in life—our puzzle-to-date, so-to-speak because our final puzzle piece doesn’t appear until…well…our final puzzle is complete. But our snapshots along the way? We can learn from the perspectives and overall fit at these different points if we invest the time and honesty to do so.
How do we find our puzzle piece?
Relax—find your peace in the puzzle
Life is busy, and we find ourselves playing a lot of roles which can be a relatively focused way to find out what really makes us tick. For example, we have a role within our family, a role at work, and even a role among our friends. Often, we’re so busy though, that—forget having any time to think—we only have time to go from one activity or role to the next. Rather than being fully present, we’re on autopilot, engaging our mind only to the degree that we need to get to the next stop in our day.
Carving out time to still our minds and relax is an important part of finding our piece of the puzzle—and I realize how difficult that can be, particularly for those who are caregivers and people with demanding careers. I have more time now, but when Mike and I were raising our kids, life was crazy. We had so little time to ourselves. At that point, I would try to set aside time before going to bed a couple of nights a week. Then, I would snuggle up under the covers and make lists—things that made me happy, things that helped me relax, things that got me energized, etc. Songs would be a part of those lists. I had songs to play when I wanted/needed to relax and other songs that would energize me. Creating these lists made me focus on the positive parts of my life, and then I could just look back at them and put them to work, or listen to certain songs when I needed them. I didn’t need to ponder, “Hmm…I wonder what would make me feel better…” I just looked at the right list and chose the idea that worked best at that particular time.
When there was more time in life, I’d have a list of places to go where I could clear my head. Walks in nature or around the city, a trip to the beach, stopping at a coffee shop, or visiting my favorite stores at our local outlets.
In my most recent stage, I have found early morning to be the most peaceful part of my day. The house is quiet, I pour a cup of coffee, and then start to think and pray or meditate, feeling temporarily insulated from the world’s turmoil. “Coffee with God,” I call it.
Rethink—how do different activities or events in my life make me feel?
During these quiet times, I review different activities or events that are going on in my life. If I think they have had an impact, I write them down, along with the way they make me feel. Sometimes there are recurring themes—similar types of challenges or limitations that have had to be overcome, behaviors in others that I notice keep appearing (usually not behaviors that I like…:)—things that give me that “I’ve been here before,” feeling. I try to recognize patterns and think about what has gotten me into those situations or drawn that type of person to me in the past. Then I think about the takeaways, and what I still may have to learn from those repeat situations.
Recharge—what gets you jazzed?
Contemplation can help get you recharged. It clears your head, you sleep better, and then wake up feeling that you’ve got a jump on the day. Cleaning out the mental clutter helps you to streamline your life.
But what’s even better is when you’re excited—when you really feel good—you know, the way that little kids feel basically every day when they wake up and a whole new day is in front of them. They just expect the day to be a blast—after all, why wouldn’t it be? I bet you used to feel that way too.
There is a theory, The Rule of Age 10, that says for true happiness in life, think back to what made you happy at age 10.[i] Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” had commented that scientists at NASA, Google, or SpaceEx, had gotten excited about their respective fields before he or she was 10 years old. “This is well documented,” he said. “If it’s not 10, it’s 11 or 12. But it ain’t 17. I’ll tell you that much.” And in doing research for his book, author Bruce Grierson found hundreds of stories about career change that supported that theory. As he said, “Lives with aha moments that were decades delayed.”
Why age 10? At 10, environment combines with a heavy dose of biology. According to the article, “it’s a developmental sweet spot. You’re old enough to know what lights you up, yet not so old that adults have extinguished that fire by dumping more practical and ‘realistic’ options on it.”
Perhaps even more than that, “the brain experiences the biggest surge of intellectual horsepower in their lifetimes at around age 10, measured by gains in executive function.”[ii] Empathy also begins to appear around that age, as does the birth of taste. And “as kids begin figuring out who they are, they start kicking around their future lives, sometimes in great detail.”
That said, I guess an important question to ask as you search for your piece of the puzzle is, “What made you happiest when you were 10?” I used to pretend a lot that I was cooking. I’m not sure I would want to do that professionally at this point (nor would anyone probably want me to😊) but as anyone who has spent any time on this site knows, cooking is still one of the fastest ways to help me reach my happy place.
Of course, as you’re thinking back to what you loved to do at age 10, remember to show up every day to life now, engaging and being fully present.
Enjoy the search for your piece of the puzzle—it’s well worth the time you’ll put into it.
Until next time,
[i][i] Grierson, Bruce; (2019 October 1); Here’s Why Living Out Your Dreams from When You Were 10 Is the Key to Happiness; Reader’s Digest; https://www.rd.com/article/rule-of-age-10/