Life is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle (not a box of chocolates)

I will never forget a client I had recently, whose simple words had the most profound effect on me. She was a remarkable woman in her 70s, retired, intelligent and hell bent on achieving her ‘big dream’. When I tried to understand exactly why it was so important that she achieve this dream, her answer stunned me:

“It’s like my life is a jigsaw puzzle, and achieving this will be like putting all of those pieces together. If I don’t make it happen before I leave this earth, those pieces will just be scattered everywhere …and there will be nothing …except for the picture on the box”.

She had perfectly captured a reality that all of us face. None of us will live forever, and at the very end, all we have are the things we’ve created, and the life we’ve built for ourselves. What my client was trying to tell me was that dreams and hopes and wishes are all just pictures on a jigsaw puzzle box – they mean nothing until they are actualized.

For my client, an unfocused and scattered life was like seeing her talents and potential lying around like pieces of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. She aspired to take all those strengths and experiences and fit them together into something of value, or else risk never living up to what she was truly capable of. It was urgent. Like Thoreau said, she didn’t want to “go to the grave with the song still in her.”

We all have a “song” in us. We all have dreams, and we all have potential far greater than we realize. But those loose puzzle pieces need something very important to hold them together: a purpose. An intention. A vision. In other words, the picture on the box.

Every piece only makes sense when it’s fitted correctly into the bigger picture. And like in life, when we can measure our actions against our broader goal, life takes on a new sense of purpose and direction - the very thing I witnessed in my client that day.

Having an internal compass or lighthouse to focus our lives has even been shown to lead to a longer life. Early existential psychologist Viktor Frankl understood this, too, when he noticed that those in Nazi concentration camps who had a firm sense of purpose often survived longer than those who didn’t. Don’t people with a sense of passion and vision just seem to have endless energy? And of course they do – what could be more satisfying than seeing your puzzle full, perfect and finished?