A couple mornings ago, my 3 year old convinced me to let him play with the 100-piece Iron Man puzzle he’d gotten as a hand-me-down from friends. It was 6:30 a.m. and I just wanted to drink some hot coffee in relative peace and quiet, so I obliged, knowing full well what a debacle this would inevitably turn out to be.
I reluctantly plucked the puzzle box off the shelf and lowered it into his waiting arms. He wasted no time dumping all the pieces out onto the oriental rug in my office and got to work, impatiently sifting through the pieces at random, hoping to find ones that matched without even turning half of them face up. I began to twitch at his complete disregard of the proper way to start a puzzle. Miraculously, though, he found two that fit together right away. Now, I suspect said pieces were already clinging to one another in the box, the puzzle having been sloppily taken apart by its previous owners, but I have no proof.
Buoyed by his “success”, my son grabbed a third piece, hoping to build upon his budding creation. “Look mommy!” he shrieked, pointing to the small cluster of puzzle pieces he had connected. I peered sleepily over my coffee cup at his collection. Even in my early morning haze, I could tell something looked “off”.
My son had apparently discovered that if he pressed hard enough, he could force just about any puzzle piece to conform to another one. The awkward gap between the cardboard knobs and sockets didn’t seem to bother him, nor did the obvious color deviation from one piece to the next. He had simply found a way to make them stick together, and that was good enough for him.
I was about to embark on an explanation of proper puzzle piece alignment when it suddenly dawned on me that we adults do this same thing all the time with the “pieces” of our own lives. How many of us just make it work – as Tim Gunn would say – without regard to whether the elements of our lives truly fit together.
I see folks doing this often in ways both big and small, and I’ve been guilty of it myself at times. I’ve seen friends try to force themselves into relationships and marriages with someone whose temperament, views, or life goals don’t complement their own. I’ve witnessed others linger in jobs or careers that don’t satisfy them. I think for many of us, the reasons we stay stuck in bad relationships, unfulfilling careers, and lousy habit patterns is because we don’t know – or are too afraid to the explore the distinct possibility – that there’s a better way.
One of my favorite books of all time is Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud (affiliate link). I highly recommend this book to everyone but especially to women, and specifically moms. It changed my life. I’ve read an embarrassing number of self-help books, and none have made as big of an impact on the way I design my life as this one has.
The author sums the tendency many of us have to put up with lackluster parts of our lives for years, or even decades, even when we know they aren’t good for us, in one awful sentence: I know I live in hell, but I know the names of all the streets. Maybe we know we aren’t with the right person, but we hold on because we fear being alone. Perhaps we know we aren’t in the right career or with the right company, but we convince ourselves it’s “good enough”. We say we want to get healthy but we sit on the couch and rifle through our kids’ Halloween candy (or maybe that’s just me). Becoming complacent and/or settling for less than we deserve may be common, but that doesn’t make it right.
In another part of the book – perhaps my absolute favorite section – Cloud describes the process gardeners take when pruning their rose bushes. (To be clear, I’m struggling as it is trying to keep myself and my kids alive, much less any delicate plants, so this concept was foreign to me. I’ve even managed to kill a Hosta, and those things would probably survive nuclear winter, so suffice it to say I have no experience successfully tending to any rose bushes.) Cloud explained that sometimes gardeners have to clip off perfectly good blooms from their rose bushes in order to make room for the great ones to flourish. It made me wonder – how many little things do we put our energy towards that distract us from the big, important facets of our lives? What could we prune away – whether that be unnecessary tasks, toxic thoughts, or something else entirely – to make more room for the things that truly matter to us?