Puzzles


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.

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4 responses

  1. Ah I knew you would finish your puzzle ! Wonderful post as usual, thank you for sharing the life experience. Keep it up.

  2. Excellent article and pretty interesting, I do have a comment though regarding this line “This experience reminded me that while it is important to be a hard worker and be determined to face your problems it in itself is not enough to succeed” actually I strongly disagree with this. You see, by making that statement, you are setting apart two things that are in reality the same. Through slightly expanding the definition of determination you will realize that in the end that was STILL the drive behind this success. You mentioned in the article that at many times frustration and cleanliness reasons almost led you to quit yet you refused to yield. It is with that determination that you were EVENTUALLY able to FIGURE OUT the border idea, and if you had given up then you wouldn’t have it figured out .Basically, figuring out the border was PART of the determination process not a separate action item.

    Now this all might sound like a minor linguistic difference that I’m nitpicking about it, but it’s actually not like that at all and it has huge practical implications. You see, looking at it this way one is more relaxed overall and understanding of the situation. Because now, instead of looking of the effort before as wasted random work, you can look at all the time it took you doing detailed research as just PART of the PROCESS to reach the bordered solution approach. In fact, there is no way you could have identified the borders properly if you didn’t know what WASN’T part of the borders–which is what you learned by doing all this research. There is more proof for why determination is the main determining factor for pretty much everything (Just look at the word itself), but I’ m going to stop there and just say that what appears to be a waste is usually a hidden step that’s not realized as a step: confusion is a fundamental step towards guidance, chaos is a fundamental step towards organization and failure is a necessary step towards success. And the driving force behind all of those is determination inshAllah.

    Wallahu A3lam

    Salam!

    1. Mostafa you are completely correct in terms of the definition of Determination and how it applies. However, you need to know that you must understand the word based on its surrounding and context. When I used the word determination, I was specifically suggesting that a person remains determined continue to follow the same method to obtain the solution, which is foolish.

  3. Hi. while reading the puzzle lesson, ironically, my research experience come to my mind before reading the remaining text (I am a computer science PhD student). You related this lesson to your research experience too. In my case I remembered (and not learned) that I should ever start by defining a first simple research work, then drive conclusions and base other work on it.
    Now, I recall a nice quote by Galileo Galilee I learned about this matter:
    “you can never teach someone what he doesn’t know, you can only bring to his awareness what he already know”.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Salem.

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