Puzzle by Charlie Girard, White Mountain Puzzles

Life Lessons from 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

No, not the song. Though once in a while I will try to recite that in my head to combat insomnia. It’s much more interesting than sheep.

But then I turn into . . . well . . . me. And my mind wanders off to, “What kinds of beer? Is there a good IPA? Who am I drinking with? Haven’t they had enough? Who’s going to drive them home?”

And after that it’s just counterproductive.

So no, this 99 Bottles of Beer is a jigsaw puzzle, currently in residence on our dining room table, about one-fifth complete.

When I can’t sleep, because I can’t seem to turn off the mind chatter, I’ve been doing a bit of puzzling. It un-tethers my brain and lets it float. And as the bottles on the wall slowly begin to show themselves piece by piece, it occurs to me that there are a lot of similarities between my business life as a whole, and this puzzle. See if you agree:

I can’t be linear with everything.

No one I know does a jigsaw puzzle by starting with the bottom-most row of pieces, and then the next row above that, and so forth to the top. (If they do, they have a lot of time on their hands.) In life, things don’t always go 1-2-3 either, and I have to dial down the frustration with that, and trust that sometimes it’s the best way to where I want to end up.

The edges are the easiest and best way to start.

I get a feeling of accomplishment when I “frame in” a puzzle, a project, a new business offering, or anything else. It not only gives me a much-needed dose of optimism, it also turns it from an amorphous blog into something with shape, structure and possibility.

Some days I have the time and space to make a lot of progress, and lots of pieces fall into place.

But on other days, I have to settle for just a couple of bits of improvement. That’s all okay. There’s no good purpose in self-flagellation here. Instead of grousing, I DO try to create more breathing room, even if it’s just an extra fifteen minutes a day, to improve my business and my life. And I keep on keepin’ on.

I have no choice but to proceed with complete faith that eventually it’s all going to come together.

When you have a thousand pieces to assemble, you can’t do it all at once. Puzzles force you to live in the mindset that all the little pieces and parts, if you calmly keep working on them, will add up to a beautiful whole.

Capitalize on—and relish—my small successes, even if it’s not “all done” yet.

Isn’t it cool when all of a sudden, you’re able to assemble a big block of pieces all together, to make a face, or a flower, or a Newcastle Brown Ale label? Who cares if it’s just a disconnected blob of pieces smack in the middle of the puzzle, with space all around it? That successful cluster, and others like it, all give me firm ground, another place to start and grow from.

Sometimes, it’s the tiniest detail that gives “the right piece” away.

Jigsaws teach your eyes to look for detail. And not just any detail—but the specific thing you need. A picture or letter, or a specific color or shape, when planted in your brain, will attract your eye in an almost magical way. In my work, when I’m clearest about what I’m searching for, and about what purpose it will serve, it is many times more likely that I’ll find it.

Sometimes what I need is sitting right in front of my face and I overlook it a hundred times before suddenly seeing it.

Even when I feel as though I’m asking the right question (such as “What helpful action can I take to make XYZ happen?”), the right answers sometimes don’t want to come, day after day. Then one day, I’ll look at something I’ve been tripping over, ignoring, or being irritated by for days, and realize it’s the perfect answer. Staring at me. Patiently waiting for me to pay attention.

Just because I can’t find it doesn’t mean there must be a piece missing.

Sometimes what I need just doesn’t seem to be there, no matter how hard I look. Then, suddenly, it is. If I stop looking because I convince myself there must be something fundamentally wrong with the game, I’ve done myself a great disservice. I’ll only know for sure when there are literally no more pieces to place.

So until then, I’ll keep going. Piece by piece.

Puzzle on, everybody. It’s all going to come together.


Need help putting some pieces together of your own?


I love helping both clients and not-yet-clients do what they do best, by saving them time, helping them get the word out about their work, and being their sherpa for all things Web.

Contact me and let’s talk about how—together—we can make 2017 an amazing year for you and your business.




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