Grad school is like a giant puzzle. Every day I add a piece. The piece might be a mini lesson about new vocabulary, or trying out a new activity, or a new way of thinking about something. Some days the piece that falls into place is huge. On other days it’s pretty tiny. Some days, pieces get replaced. Or I discover that the piece I added the day before doesn’t go where I thought, so I have to find a new place for it.
I like puzzles. Every piece has its place. There’s a way it all fits together. It’s about figuring out how the details come together to make something bigger. That big picture is always on the box. Except for this particular puzzle. I don’t have a box lid to refer to. I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like. But I keep putting the pieces together the best I know how.
Sometimes I think I’ve finished this puzzle. And usually as soon as I think that, I find 1,000 other homeless pieces that I didn’t know were there, waiting to put them in place. It stresses me out to have this constantly unfinished puzzle in my life. I want to finish this one, celebrate the accomplishment and take a shiny, new puzzle out of the box. That’s exciting. Seeing this same unfinished puzzle day after day is NOT always exciting. Some days I want to stop working on it. Some days I want to flip the table it’s on and watch the pieces go cascading across the floor in every direction. Some days I pretend this puzzle doesn’t exist. Puzzle? I’m sorry, what are you talking about? Some days I am convinced that this puzzle is mocking me. It just sits there, threatening to explode in my face right before I put that day’s piece into place. How rude.
It’s not rude all the time though. Lots of times it’s a rush. Finding out where each piece goes and marveling and how each one connects. Sometimes when a piece fits in, it makes the picture clearer than it has ever been. And then there are pieces with such obscure colors and lines that I wonder if maybe they might have ended up in the wrong box. But if I’m patient enough, those weird-looking pieces might someday fall into place in that way that makes me wonder how I lived without it.
Everyone has a different strategy for puzzling these pieces together. Some people like to start with the edge pieces and make the border first. Others like to focus on a very specific section and branch out from there. Some people love to do puzzles in groups. Others have to do them alone. No matter what, we’ve all got our puzzles to piece together. Hopefully we’ve got friends and family who can help us strategize through our struggle, but at the end of the day, we each have to own our unfinished puzzles and find the patience and faith that the pieces will come together in a way that helps us see the big picture a little more clearly, and find a little more appreciation for the process of puzzling through it.
Photo credit: Horia Varian via Flickr Creative Commons