Dr. Marry and Me,  Personal Writing

Something to puzzle over

The story

When Dr Marry got sober, close to six years ago now, we determined we needed some new hobbies. Before he went to the hospital and rehab, we certainly did things together, but a lot of it was centered around alcohol: bike to a restaurant/pub for a glass of wine, build a fire and have a Baileys, sit in the back yard with a drink. We needed to try something different.

Dr Marry, bless him, tried valiantly to come up with things I might find interesting. The “best” of the list was Civil War reenactment.

You think I’m kidding, don’t you?

Needless to say, I don’t do “dress up.” If I’m in costume, it’s because I’m in a play or musical. Period.

I countered with puzzles.

Closer to home, easier to store a small box than a hoop skirt, doesn’t require me to ever say, “I declare!” while fanning myself from the heat…

We went to a local store and purchased a serene ocean scene because I knew Dr Marry would like the image, which might make him more amenable to trying this new hobby. It was a 1,000 piece puzzle. “No problem,” I thought. Between us, we have six degrees and are generally intelligent. I anticipated being back to purchase the next puzzle in short order.

Now is a good time to ask yourself what having a lot of advanced education has to do with fitting 1,000 tiny shaped pieces of cardboard, most of which are either the blue of the sky or the ocean, together.

Turns out, puzzles aren’t impressed by Masters degrees or even PhDs.

We labored over the outer frame for hours (you know, the pieces with one straight edge—the “easy” bit). HOURS!

Dr Marry swore quite a lot, but he was really only channeling my inner monologue with a good dose of his Irish upbringing for good measure. I kept asking myself what was wrong with us that we couldn’t just do the puzzle. I mean, how hard is it to put together an image you’re looking at on the box?

We spent one miserable evening laboring over that damn ocean scene—why was every single piece blue??? When we finally walked away from it, we hadn’t even finished the easiest part and there was no serenity to be found at our house.

We never returned to that puzzle.

We gave up after one momentously failed attempt at being a couple who does puzzles. It sat on the downstairs table for ages, quietly taunting me every time I walked past.

Eventually, I dismantled the little bit we had managed to put together and took the puzzle to Good Will. Dr Marry and I went on to find other hobbies (still not reenactments), swearing off puzzles.

Two weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she had completed a really fun puzzle. I regaled her with this story, emphatically saying, “We don’t do puzzles.”

She said, “You need to start with one that has fewer pieces. And it needs to be a fun image to keep you going. This one is perfect.”

She presented me with a 500 piece scene of multi-colored birds, berries and leaves.

I brought it home and asked Dr Marry if we could take a stab at it, promising that half the number of pieces should make a difference. The fact that blue was not the only color also helped.

We have now worked on it over the course of two evenings. I suppose we’ve put in a total of 4 hours. It’s been frustrating at times, but we’ve stuck with it because we’ve made just enough progress to feel good about the mental labor. And my friend is correct: it has been fun to see these birds come to life as we fit it all together.

Both nights have had rusty starts: picking up pieces and trying in vain to find their home. But with a little patience and time, it’s almost as if our brains start to see the puzzle differently. Shapes, colors, bits of each bird become easier to discover in a sea of pieces. We find we’re more often picking up the correct piece based on a kind of instinct.

I feel pretty confident we’ll start another one when we’ve finished this one.

The lesson

What’s your puzzle?

Exercise? Weight loss? Addiction? Lack of romance? A miserable job you need to leave? Fear of failure so you stop dreaming?

Dr Marry and I did what so many of us do: we make a big declaration about something…anything in our lives. And we make a great big splash about it.

We join the expensive gym, buy the jaw droppingly expensive sweat-wicking workout clothes and sign up with a personal trainer saying we’re going to workout seven days a week and we’ll never miss a single day. We proclaim “No more sugar…ever!” We swear off all alcohol. We tell everyone that there’s absolutely no one for us, so we’re done looking for love. We can’t utter our dreams out loud, because once something we tried fell apart. The foregone conclusion is that the only possible outcome of anything risky in our lives is the same regardless what the new situation is or how differently we are positioned for success this time.

In other words, we purchase the 1,000 piece puzzle and nearly guarantee our failure, when if we simply started with something more manageable, we could ease our way into success.

Join a gym or find a fitness program online and commit to exercising twice/week to get started. Or, tie up your old tennis shoes and take a 10-minute walk every day at lunchtime. Decide to drink alcohol only on Friday and Saturday nights and drink something NA in a pretty glass every other night. Commit to eating less sugar and be conscious of the times you find yourself mindlessly going for a treat throughout the day. Can you leave it uneaten for 10 minutes and see if you still want it? Recognize that you are currently living with the fear of pursuing your dreams. Much of whatever you long for takes time, energy, belief, hard work and more, and you have control over much of how you work toward it.

Life is not an all or nothing proposition.

Take one step, even if it seems so small as to be ridiculous, every day toward your dream. Starting from a less complicated place doesn’t negate the wins, and every little success matters. Rather that sit in frustration, Dr Marry and I have enjoyed this puzzle because we found one that was a better fit for where we are right now.

As an interesting aside: For the first two years of the Civil War the North was losing…badly. Rather than throw in the towel, they assessed their overall situation, made various adjustments to their tactics and coordinated their efforts differently. Those small moves led to decisive wins at the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg over the course of the first four days in July 1863, and the South never recovered.

Right size your steps to achieving your dreams, don’t let set backs derail you and you’ll be well on your way.

And if you need help in identifying your dreams, download my (re)Discover Your Spark workbook to get started.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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