How to put a life together?

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

There will come times in our lives when we we need to rebuild, or at least re-work, our life. But how do you solve the puzzle of putting together a life?

I was taught a way of doing puzzles. You start with the corners, then the edges, and then fill in the middle, all the time checking what you are doing against the picture on the lid. I like doing puzzles this way. It's neat and ordered, and you work out quickly if you have room for it on your coffee table.

My toddler has a different method. He picks up (or has me find) the pieces of his favourite character and starts by working out how these pieces go together. After that, he'll attach the pieces that fit around this character, finally discovering the edges, which always seem the hardest to put in place.

For putting together the pieces of our life, I rather like my son's method. We've been given many final pictures of what our lives should look like, but they're often contradictory and hazy in places, and rarely about us. We've often started with limits: don't be too this or that, you'll never be this or that, you're not this or that. We prematurely assess the space available for our life jigsaw and get a new one from the family and cultural cupboard if it might take up too much room: the failure one, or the nice and polite one, or the put-together achiever one. And we usually end up with the favourite character, ourselves, rather small, or rather disfigured, as we've had to cut off this and that part off and stick on this and that bit to make it fit.

My son offers another way.

We start with the pieces of ourselves. Of course, we must learn to value ourselves sufficiently to start here. And, we might need to find some or many of the bits we’ve chopped off, thrown away or lost behind the sofa. Once we have (most of) these, we can start trying to put ourselves together. We may need to re-aquaint ourselves with some parts, learn to embrace and value them again, and work out where they belong in us. Then we can start to put other pieces of our life around us. Perhaps they're connected in different ways than before. Perhaps some of these pieces need placing behind the sofa. There will probably be some push back here. Those pieces may like where they used to be, gotten used to it, or had their pieces nicely fitting together. We may need to renegotiate. But most will value the new picture in the end. Finally, we discover our own limits. These are difficult to find and accept sometimes, and may take a lot of trial and error, but are necessary if the jigsaw is to hold together.

Of course, we may find the jigsaw doesn't fit on the coffee table at this point.

That's OK. Perhaps it belonged on the dining table all along.


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