When life doesn’t fit as you had pictured, it might be time to ditch the reference photo.

Photo by Mel Poole / Unsplash

Have you ever seen those all-white jigsaw puzzles? You open the box and there’s 1,000 white pieces. No reference photo. No guide. Just 1,000 loose ends to fiddle with until you figure out how to get each one to click just right. White jigsaw puzzles are a lot more challenging than puzzles with an image. Puzzles with an image (e.g. most puzzles) provide a template for how everything should look in the end…a reference against which you can compare your progress.

Puzzles with an image are deceptively straightforward and are analogous to what I think a lot of us might be getting wrong about life. Let me explain.

Many of us are presented with an image early on of how the perfect life should look, and we set out on a lifelong quest to try to find all the pieces we’ll need to make our lives match the picture on the metaphorical box of life. Only, none of us will ever find the exact combination of pieces from the “perfect” reference, so no one will finish with with what we were shown at the start, leading many of us to feel incomplete — like we’re missing a piece  — when reality doesn’t match the reference.

So how is it that some people still feel a deep sense of completeness regardless of how their pieces have come together while others don’t? They’ve ditched the reference image and instead evaluate life by the quality of the connections they’ve formed with the pieces they have. Those wise folks are building a different kind of puzzle. They’ve accepted that there’s no template for life and that all that matters is how everything fits together.

They’ve turned 1,000 random pieces into 1,000 rich experiences by finding beauty in the blank uncertainty of a template-free life. For them, life came together when they tossed out the reference.

Deceptively straightforward, but worth a lifetime of puzzling out.