I feel like there are very few life lessons that we learn all our lives, we just keep experiencing them at different levels and intensities as we age. How we respond to each of these situations is what ends up shaping us as individuals. If you look back at your 12 years of education (not including college) you will realize that we have been taught a very limited set of subjects (math, chemistry, biology, physics, social studies, history and language) throughout our schooling years. Each year we get to learn these subjects at greater depth and focus, I believe the same applies to life lessons.
What does this have to do with Puzzles you ask? Everything! Well at least from my perspective. Okay hear me out:
Last year I bought a puzzle and tried to play it, but it was too hectic and there really was no place to play it so I placed it away. Needing relief from the constant stresses of life, I took out the puzzle last month, placed it on the floor against the wishes of my wife and started solving it. I immediately attacked the most visible landmark in the puzzle, the boat, and in no time it was done. After that I tried to tackle other regions of the puzzle and quickly got overwhelmed with all the available options and other than placing a few pieces here and there I couldn’t move forward. My wife patience started running out, the floor in the living room was constantly dirty, and she started demanding I better cleanup or complete the puzzle or else !!! However, I was not willing to concede defeat and after some frustrating moments I remembered the old rule of puzzle playing. One must complete the border pieces first and then tackle the inside. So I cleaned up all the random puzzle pieces and started again this time focusing first on the outer edges and then moving to the interior pieces. Suddenly, it was no longer a chaotic work or impossible. Even though I still had a while to go, it was manageable. I was no longer lost or stuck and knew where to go next and which section to tackle next. I was able to finish the puzzle a week later (under the relentless gaze of my wife) and I then glued it together and hung it up to remind me of a life lesson one cannot forget.
This experience reminded that while it important to be a hard worker and be determined to face your problems it in itself is not enough to succeed. My initial attempt at the puzzle failed not because I was not determined enough or did not give it enough time. I failed because I did not follow a structured approach to solving it. I did not place the boundaries needed to solve this problem. Before you comment, “okay Salah, this is just a puzzle, clearly it has nothing to do with real life”, think again. With regards to myself I found that this life lesson applies directly to my own research efforts that until last month were lagging. While I continuously produced results and read many theses and papers, I never successfully drew the boundaries and objectives of my research. This resulted in many hours lost pondering over small details that might or might not have been a part of the research. By applying the lessons I learned from the puzzle I am now much further along in my research and can say with confidence I will be done this semester (God Willing). Many of you might respond by saying, this old news get with the program Salah. I agree and that why I specifically used the word ‘remind’ and not learn and that is what I am trying to point out, in life there are few lessons, but they are repeated over and over again in different circumstances with different intensities. Finishing the puzzle is not an important milestone in life, while finishing my masters is. But they both teach you the same lesson; you just learn new ways and tools on how to apply the life lesson to accomplish your goals. Now it is your turn to take some time off and ponder about the challenges that you face in your life, both the small insignificant ones and the Mount Everest ones. Maybe you will learn lessons from small items that impact your life in ways you can’t imagine, and if you do please don’t forget to share with me.