Humanity is a Puzzle, and We are the Pieces

In my humble opinion, a good analogy to describe humanity is a puzzle. When put together, a puzzle becomes one; it forms an image that cannot be gathered from any individual piece of the puzzle. The end goal of course is to have one complete puzzle, but what makes it a puzzle? If it were a photograph or a painting, it would be one cohesive entity. The unique thing about a puzzle is that it is made up of individual pieces that must fit together in order to form the larger image.

And that makes us, each individual, a puzzle piece. As pieces, we are not whole when the puzzle lies apart, deconstructed. We desire to fit in seamlessly with the pieces around us. But we need not host the entire image, we are only each a small piece that makes up the entire image. Do not confuse being an individual piece, however, with being expendable.

You see, every puzzle piece is unique. No other piece can take its place and still form the proper larger image. A puzzle is incomplete if even one of the pieces is lost or destroyed. This makes the individual pieces as important as the larger image. The larger image cannot exist without the individuals that make it up.

The reason I am explaining this is that some seem to view individuals as unimportant and worthless. I wholeheartedly disagree. Without individuals, there is no humanity, so how can you say that the pieces which make up the whole are unimportant? What many mean is that any one piece is not important for the larger structure to come together.

Again, I disagree. Something will be missing in the larger picture if we do not treat each individual as the important, unique puzzle piece they are. We are all connected, or at least the potential for us to all be connected exists. As individual puzzle pieces, our ultimate desire is to become one.

This is akin to what many religions believe happens after death. The reason we cannot imagine paradise, heaven, or perpetual bliss is because we are coming from the perspective of a puzzle piece, and the ultimate reward is to exist as a puzzle, all put together with no missing pieces.

I see this as the source of hate, jealousy, fear, regret, doubt, and insecurity. We are uncomfortable existing as puzzle pieces when we know our ultimate and complete state is as one puzzle. But we are comforted when we connect to other puzzle pieces around us. It feels right to love. It feels right to be connected to those people around you with whom you fit.

We desire to be part of a group, but the group needs the right pieces in order to exist. The parts must not be random, there are specific pieces that fit into other pieces. This is what our lives are about, understanding our own shape as a puzzle piece so that we may find the pieces with which we seemlessly fit, doing our part to complete the puzzle, and become whole.

And when you are a part of a group, a loving family, a tight knit cluster of friends, you feel a glimpse of that joy that comes from being whole. Of course the entire puzzle may not be constructed, but we relax and feel in control when our own section starts to form. And darkness overcomes us when we try to force two pieces to fit together, when they are not meant to.

So remember, do not destroy or damage other pieces, as the whole picture will then be unable to come together. Each puzzle piece is important, including yourself. Connect with those that you fit with, but do not force a connection when it is wrong. In time you will all be one, but the puzzle must be naturally constructed.

And when all the pieces fall tightly into place and we exist as a puzzle, as one, we will all forget what it felt like to be a piece of a puzzle, and live on endlessly as one, unfathomably content because we are complete.

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Do It For The Perspective: Money Isn’t the Only Valuable

I’m back! As in, vacation me which is my natural state of happy existence. Even my cousin could tell the change in tone from when I started this blog in July, and as of late. But there is something about getting out there, seeing new things, and talking to new people that breaks down this mundane and lethargic shell. The shell that says it is not that important to enjoy every minute of life, the shell that convinces us money is more important than living life to the fullest.

[By the way I’m going to mix in pictures of Barrow throughout this post for no apparent reason other than it makes me happy.]

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Being a relatively responsible person, I was a bit stressed about money before this trip. And it helped that I spent about $70 fewer dollars on gas on the way down. But really at the end of the day, I know I am not going to go into crippling debt. So why would I let a few hundred dollars make or break a vacation?

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So of course my advice to you all is go do it. Whatever it may be for you. Catch up with college friends, family members; this week will hopefully be full of that (as long as you don’t get snowed in). The more often I change my scenery, the easier it is for me to understand that it is far more important to live than exist. But it is a good thing I planned this trip far off, because when I am out of real-me-mode, it does seem a lot easier and cheaper to just stay home. If I had waited until last week to make a decision on this trip, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. Kind of like my New York City trip, where I was on the edge until the night before: “It is going to be such a hassle!”

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Yea, you know what, it is a hassle. And everything in the world is a cost benefit balance. The benefits of enjoying myself and growing as a person far outweigh the monetary, time, and energy costs of taking these trips. I don’t see the family that is down here super often, so having the chance to connect over the last few days (and the next) has been amazing. What if I had forgone this trip, and not spent time with my relatives, reconnecting, and getting to know each other more? Well maybe it wouldn’t have been so noticeable on the outside, but really it would be another crack in the pillar of happiness. Instead, I threw down some mortar, and popped another block on top of that pillar.

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Perspective is valuable.

In a material society it is hard to place value on things that you can’t hold in your hand, or buy for $300. But maybe we should stop thinking of our lives as separated: the family self, the friend self, the work self. Maybe it is time to think of skills and knowledge as something that will make us whole. Life experiences should grow you as a person, not separate you into different people. It could help to think less of, “How will this increase my earning potential?” or “Is this the most I could gain during my only 6 hours off this week?”

I used to only read non-fiction political books. I wanted to go into politics (what was wrong with me?!) so I didn’t want to waste my time reading non-fiction. This is especially ironic since I am now writing fiction books; turns out all that fiction wasn’t a waste of time! But even if I didn’t want to write, it would not have been a waste of my time. That is because A, it was enjoyable, and enjoying your time is not a waste, and B, perspective!

How can you think you know what is up with the world if you have only viewed it from one angle? How can you think you know yourself if you have only viewed you from one angle. I’m finding I like vacation me best. I’m more positive and I have more fun. It is a struggle to keep that attitude while not on vacation, but at least I have a marker, a goal. When do you like yourself the most? That is the real you. You do you.

Perspective makes you less judgmental.

Yesterday I stopped by an outdoor bar on the Gulf of Mexico. I ordered a Yuengling which just so happened to help strike up a conversation with the grey goateed man with a Harley hat named Eric sitting next to me. He was from Philadelphia, where one of the breweries is based, and my bartender was asking me if I noticed a difference between southern and northern Yuengling because of the different brewing locations (I didn’t).

So anyway we get to talking and he is telling me about all the redneck guys in the area. Sure, there was some poking fun at them, but the crux of the story was that they were some of the nicest guys he has met. One big burly man walked up to Eric while Eric was with his friends. “Is that Eric?” The friends tensed up, was trouble brewing? “JOE!!” Yells Eric and jumps to his feet to give Joe a big bear hug, because that is how they greet each other whenever they cross paths.

At a local bar Eric once walked in, and some ZZ Top looking fellas said (or maybe it was their beer that said it), “Who’s this f**ing guy?” Eric just laughed, “How you doing boys”, and bought them each a round of beer ($2.50 for a PBR, not bad). The rest of the night, they were like old friends. Now THAT is how to diffuse a situation. Eric had perspective, and was not going to be brought down. Turns out he was a Sociology major, just like me.

Perspective makes you less stressed out.

It could be so much worse. I could have been left alone from 15 up raising a younger sibling while Dad just dropped off groceries once a week. Maybe that is why he can’t read so well. I could be called weekly by a parent’s neighbors to come round them up. Maybe that is where his stress comes from. Those are real people I met: awesome people who are productive, nice, and don’t complain.

I’m not immune, I still complain. But the more perspective you get, the more pathetic you feel for complaining that you had to wait 30 minutes to get picked up from CCD (you like the plug Mom and Dad?). Oh right, and I have a Mom and Dad who care enough to encourage me with what I want to do (even though it doesn’t make me money yet), and read my work. Thanks 🙂

I could break down on the drive home halfway back. But you know what? I wouldn’t be alone. Yea, physically I would. But it would not rest solely on my shoulders to get me out of there, and that is priceless. How can I be stressed out when I think of the worst that could happen, and it really isn’t that bad.

I’m happy, I’m grateful, I’m energetic, and I want you all to be too! I love positive people. Be positive. It is not always a competition, you can encourage others without feeling less about yourself. Do what you love, when possible don’t stress. Set goals, big and small. But most important, don’t just exist, live.

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Don’t Be Scared into the Status Quo: Ordering Off the Menu versus Building Your Own Life

So here’s the conundrum. Life has such vast opportunities, but that means it is impossible to calculate where a choice will lead. It is scary to invite the world in, because inevitably some bad might come in with the good. It can be comfortable to stay were you are at, having reached a benchmark. But there are limitless opportunities and adventures out there! There is not 1 formula for how a life must be lived. With infinite paths, this life can be any combination of experiences, people, adventures, and opportunities you desire. Feel free to mix and match.

The “Sure Thing”

Most of us end up falling back on the sure thing… well as sure as anything can get in this life. We get a job, maybe start a family, save for retirement, and raise some kids. I am not criticizing anyone for doing that if it makes/ made you happy. I think that is an awesome choice for some people, one that can truly be a blessing. But that is one option. To make that choice for yourself is great, but it is natural to try to make your own choice look like the best one, and project outwardly how awesome your circumstances are.

So the problem becomes when enough people collectively adopt the same path, and pressure others to take the same path. Some people do this because they honestly think they took the best possible path and want to help others do the same. Some people are just programmed robots who repeat what they feel they should. Some people are pissed off about their life circumstances and misery loves company.

Don’t let other people talk you out of the typical life if that is what you want, but don’t let anyone trick you into thinking the same thing will make any one of us happy. Everyone is free to make their own choices, but it is hard for some people to resist societal and peer pressure. I am pretty confidant and happy in the abnormal direction I am taking with my life. But even I have to remind myself often that it is okay to not do the same thing “all my friends” are doing, in terms of pursuing careers etcetera.

I am not just saying play video games on the couch your whole life. Actually the opposite. Don’t use “I’m an individual” as an excuse to be lazy and go fewer places, literally of figuratively, than a normal 9-5 would take you. But if you have a plan, and it doesn’t include a cubicle, go for it! I have to constantly remind myself that it is okay that I do not work in a cubicle doing something I hate for five days, just to try to squeeze some enjoyment from the other two, overshadowed by the next 5 days spent doing something I hate.

It makes sense that the “sure thing” is what the majority of people go for. They order off the menu. If you honestly don’t know what you want, you might as well provide yourself with the means to buy necessities, and some spending money to pursue fun and adventure on the side. Even if you do know what you want, the “sure thing”might be the best path to get there. Why try to build my own sandwich when I already see a delicious one available? But some people choose the “sure thing” out of fear, and end up surviving when they should be living.

Build Your Own Happiness

So if that typical work life isn’t for you, try something else. Even just talking about jobs (because I understand we all have needs) there are countless, although most likely lower paying, alternatives to doing something you hate. It may be cliche, but they say do what you love and the money will come. So maybe you like hiking… and just walking around the woods might never earn you much money. But have you looked into becoming a park ranger, a canoe/ kayak guide, or even part of a grounds crew for a park? It might not be glamorous, but for some people the quality of life might be better earning less but working outside.

There are so many ingredients in life, why not try your hand at combining just the right ones for you?

Running is one of my hobbies, so on the side I work for a running shoe store. Is working at a running shoe store the same thing as running? No, but it is closer than working on a computer. I get to interact with runners, trade training tips and knowledge, offer advice, learn from anecdotes, address injuries, and use the stick and the foam roller while getting paid to be there. I work with awesome people, the customers are almost always happy and excited, and I’ve gained enough knowledge and expertise that this job could be a stepping stone. I could use it as a jumping off point to become a coach, a nutritionist, a trainer, or maybe even someday open my own running store.

I am that guy that likes hiking, and no I haven’t earned any money from walking around the woods. But I did pick up foraging, and reading into natural medicines. This is a skill that I practice while hiking; it adds to the fun of being in the woods to identify useful plants. I could see becoming an herbal healer some day, perhaps combining my interests in physical activity with diet, and throw in some experience working for a small business. I’ve got the background to start a natural medicine clinic. And the perfect base for customers would be injury prone runners, who may not know that some ginger and pineapple after a run will help reduce inflammation in the joints, and eating a beet regiment can help open up the blood vessels, increasing oxygen flow.

I don’t know if I am going to go into the running or natural medicine business—right now I am trying my hand in the writing industry. But I do know not to get too caught up in padding my bank account, instead focusing on the endless opportunities that life has in store.

I want to move south, at least for a while. I feel the need to change my surroundings after 25 years, live somewhere new, and experience a different atmosphere. That is scary though, and it is sad just thinking about not seeing certain friends and family for prolonged periods of time. But it is something that will keep me from stagnating, move me forward, and afford me with new opportunities and skills. I haven’t had much opportunity to try my hand at mini-farming, which also fits into my interests and possibilities for future income generation.

And I want to see the world. Again, it might be tough to ever make money on some of these things. But seeing the world gives you perspective, the kind that might impress someone in conversation, the type of someone who happens to be able to get you a job as a tour guide at a museum of fine art. I don’t know! That’s the point, there are a thousand opportunities around every corner, and doing what you love can’t hurt. The more you break outside of the status quo, the more likely things will be new, exciting, and rewarding!

Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you love. It may be safer and easier to stay at a job you hate, pay the bills, and try to squeeze some enjoyment out of life. But if that doesn’t make you happy, it might be time to take a chance, and see where it leads you. Seriously why is 95% of the population trapped in the same “this is how it has to be” mentality, when there are countless, endless opportunities for gains, adventure, fun, knowledge, skills, and anything else you might crave, desire, or need for fulfillment.

Don’t let the fear control you. Don’t be so scared to grab at an opportunity, or create your own opportunity, that you let the sand slip between your fingers. What’s that old cliche: on their death bed, most people don’t regret the things they did, they regret the things they didn’t do.