The Puzzle of Collaboration

Puzzle: v. 1. To baffle or confuse mentally. 2. To clarify or solve by reasoning or study.
Puzzle: n. 1. A jigsaw puzzle 2. Something that baffles or confuses

Our family puzzle

My daughter gave a talk in church and told our congregation that I overambitiously chose a 2000-piece puzzle for our family to do on winter vacation. I’m not embarrassed that she expressed it; she’s right. I did overreach. I often stretch myself and my family with goals just beyond our current capacity. I’m just embarrassed that her announcement came three months after we began the puzzle, and despite our best efforts, it still wasn’t complete. That evidence—that only my family knew—brought a blush to my face.

In an effort to save face or something else, our family spent last week, all of spring break, hunched over our ottoman, united in our purpose to finish. At one point of despair I threatened to scoop all the pieces from the board and back into the box. It seemed unsolvable. But I couldn’t follow through with my threat. My kids rallied around me and gave their best efforts to help me persevere, in a role reversal of what I give them when they struggle to press forward. The goal to complete it had become theirs. That is good, since spring break ended today, and the puzzle is still unfinished.

So, why do I continue to place these endeavors in front of my family?

Collaboration in creativity is rare.  Howard Roark of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead always worked alone. I understand his stipulation, and I don’t think it came from a self-centered and individualistic mindset, as many of the other characters believed.  We are a home of artists. My husband is an architect. I am a writer. My oldest daughter composes music. My son invents. My youngest daughter paints. For the most part, each of us works individually in our art, not because we are self-centered or believe our ideas superior to those who may give suggestions. It is for another reason. We create by solving an internal puzzle.

However, when I bring a tangible puzzle to the forefront of our family life something else happens. The interaction required to complete the puzzle, not so much the end result, adds value to our home. How?

We learn the different work styles of each other, and we identify our own way of working. My daughter sorts pieces by shape into straight lines and then systematically tries each piece. I “get to know”  the puzzle by color, texture and pattern. I choose pieces from a scattered array that are similar in color and pattern to the area I’m working. Her strategy and style frustrated my attempts, as mine did to hers. But with the sheer length of the project, all were needed. And each used his or her own style to work toward the goal.

We’re all a little worried that we have lost one or two pieces behind the couch. They could all point to me if they wanted to blame; I’m sure I vacuumed up at least one. We may never have the whole puzzle put together. And I’m ok with that. We’ve unified our efforts not just in this puzzle, but in a familiarity and acceptance of our different personalities. And that’s a key to a puzzle that will continue on in whatever we try to accomplish.


  1. Sarah (GenMom)
    Mar 24, 2009

    Love it! To work together as a family sets up a precedence for future “puzzles of life.”

    Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. An Ordinary Mom
    Mar 26, 2009

    And this also reminds me that we must remember that in life we need to function on the Lord’s timetable, not our own. And that we are meant to be stretched in life so we can grow into the gods and goddesses we are supposed to become. Cruising along as if life is a piece of cake doesn’t do us much good.

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