We are all reading this from different points in our careers and lives. We’re experiencing various degrees of comfort, satisfaction, and happiness with the trajectory we happen to be on. No matter where we sit on those continuums, we are all at various stages of a process. While we live our lives and participate in situations, especially difficult ones, it can be hard to gain enough perspective to see beyond the immediate frustration of what we’re going through at the moment. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a process implies a beginning, middle, and end, and that we all have multiple processes running at once.
We can take the analogy of putting together a puzzle as an apt metaphor for the stages we go through in learning new skills and solving problems in all areas. A typical way to put together a square puzzle is to find the edge pieces first to create the outline, categorize the remaining pieces by color/area, then work in a more haphazard way to fill in the middle. Finally, as most pieces get cleared, momentum builds and the end is within reach. The puzzle is completed (or you may find that there are pieces missing and make peace with that.)
Creating an Outline
When we take on a new challenge, experience a new situation, or find ourselves going through a period of change, our first instinct is often to get a handle on what exactly is happening before taking action. We gather facts and begin to form an idea of what we are working with. This stage can happen when we first start a new job, a new project, or experience a life change. It can often feel overwhelming and urgent as we attempt to get a grasp on the situation. Notably, at this stage, we don’t have enough information to know exactly how anything will turn out, but we make a commitment to starting.
Organizing the Pieces
As we form a general idea of what we’re working with, we can start categorizing the situation and break it into known areas. We can separate the problem into discrete chunks, connecting them to areas we are already familiar with, and form an idea of how and where they fit into the bigger picture. We might find ourselves performing these actions when working through a new technical challenge at an existing position, learning a new programming language, or creating a presentation. This stage can often feel great, as it’s a quick-moving way to make tangible progress.
The Messy Middle
After we get a handle on the situation and organize it in our minds, we are often left with the hardest part: moving through a period with no clear path forward and a feeling of relative disorganization. The easy parts have been done, leaving us to tend to the most difficult areas. The expression that applies here is, “The only way out is through.” We develop our grit and resilience in this stage. It may benefit us to step away from the problem periodically to regain our focus and perspective. In stepping away, we allow space for intuition and inspiration to do their work, so we can return more energized with a clearer picture of the problem. This stage feels frustrating, and we may have to fight the urge to simply give up; however, by pressing on, we begin to feel a sense of accomplishment.
As more and more of the problem gets handled, we begin to see a more complete picture of the end state, and are spurred on once again with strong momentum, as we can see the finish line. This only happens because of our earlier dedication to working through the difficulties. While there may still be some things that remain unclear, the overall situation feels much more known and understood than it did at first, and we can take pride in and reassurance from that. This is where we often reach our peak positive emotional state.
Finally, all the pieces are in place, and we can see how the completed work looks. This can miss, meet, or exceed our initial expectations, but we can appreciate our efforts to continue the project to its end goal. We may notice at the end that we are missing a piece in a key area, and must make a decision about how important that item is – should we delay the whole thing for it, or is it peripheral? Prioritizing outstanding problems and creating a “phase 2” plan can be useful. Additionally, we can feel a sense of loss, since completion is a type of ending, and means that a process we began to get used to came to its close. We must remember that we have multiple processes running at once, and there are always new horizons to explore. The end or solution to this project may have been reached, but we are not purposeless as a result! We can pause to celebrate, then take stock of areas where we’d like to spend more time, pursue new goals, or gain deeper understanding. Throughout our life, we never lose the opportunity to open ourselves to new challenges. Let us experience our true power and resilience by applying ourselves to life’s puzzles with intention and boldness, then enjoying the results.