What Do Jewelry, Jigsaw Puzzles and Recruiting Have in Common?

I had a surprising epiphany the other night after spending a good part of the weekend making jewelry: Making jewelry is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.

I love a good puzzle. In fact, I am a Jigsaw Puzzle Addict from way back. If there is an open puzzle on the table I’m working on it.

We discovered this when I was in high school. My family went on vacation for a week to a beach cabin with no television, and my mother brought along a jigsaw puzzle to prevent utter mayhem in case it rained. (In western Washington State rain is a pretty safe bet.) If I was inside the cabin I was working on that puzzle. And I finished it.

So we bought another one when we got home. Same thing. Then my mother bought another one and this time she took away the lid to the box – so I had no picture to go by.

Didn’t matter. I did it anyway. Faster.

I find them very soothing. My brain goes into a different mode where there are no words, only visuals (and I am a very visual person). And with puzzles, I get to focus on both the details and The Whole.

There is something enormously satisfying about taking a jumble of pieces and making the myriad connections needed until a consolidated whole emerges.

When I was in college, I started using jigsaw puzzles as therapy at the end of a term. Once I was done with all of my papers and exams (and my brain was fried) I would lock myself up with a puzzle. By the time I finished the puzzle (usually in a weekend) I was fine again.

When my (late) husband discovered this, he adopted it as his favorite gift. Perfume? Jewelry? Occasionally. But my favorite thing was to come home on a Friday night and find a new puzzle and a bottle of champagne on the dining room table.

He had no interest in (or patience with) doing them himself, and he didn’t drink, either. This was something he bought just for me.

He even knew me so well that he could tell if I was having a difficult time at work. He would just look at me and say, “I think you need a puzzle.” And he was usually right.

I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle in a long time, though, because I haven’t given myself permission to sit still and not focus on work in quite a while – except the occasional day spent reading or gardening.

But I’ve recently taken up beading. I blame my mother and sister, who took me along when they went to a humungous bead store for an afternoon when I last visited them in Seattle. I went in not intending to buy anything, but I ended up purchasing the beads for a necklace as a souvenir of that visit. (And, I should say, I bought way more than the two of them put together.)

Then a friend gave me a kit with a huge variety of beads, wires and tools, and my sister came to visit and helped me figure out what I had and organize it. Then we visited another bead shop, and one of my favorite jewelry stores had a sale on hand-blown glass beads… you can see where this is going.

So I have been spending time sitting with the beads, looking at them, combining them, recombining them, and recombining them again. Do these two go together? Do these three go together? Is there a pattern emerging? Are you earrings? Or a necklace? Or a bracelet?

I realized this is very similar to the process I go through when sorting puzzle pieces. Do these two go together? Do these three go together? Are you a roofline? Or a tree branch?

Then the thought occurred to me that maybe being an external recruiter, which I did for six years (and thoroughly enjoyed), was like doing jigsaw puzzles, too. Sifting through candidates and their skills and personalities and goals, sifting through clients and their job requirements and company cultures and goals, and matching them up. Do these two go together? Do these three go together?

They’re all about making connections, and the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

My point is this: Sometimes we take things so for granted that we fail to see the connections that exist between them and the patterns they create.

What are some of the patterns or connections that repeat themselves in your life, whether in hobbies, or relationships, or in your work – or that cross over between them?

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3 Responses to What Do Jewelry, Jigsaw Puzzles and Recruiting Have in Common?

  1. Jenny December 20, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    It’s a cruel and wonderful thing your sister and mother did in taking you to that bead shop. They’re irresistible. Beautiful shiny things in cute little boxes, shelves and shelves of them, each more interesting than the last. Gah! I avoid them at all cost.

    But I do so because I have the same fixation as you, I believe. When I was very young we were quite poor. But I had a few puzzles, two Winny the Pooh themed and a third, I can recall, that was my favorite: a haunted house theme almost like the Adams Family (my fav show at the time), but not quite.

    I put that puzzle together SO many times, even when pieces started to go missing I’d sit down every afternoon to put it together. I can still picture it with vivid detail. The odd, brightly-colored plants that landscaped the yard, the tint of gray that were the shingles, the wicked smile on the wife’s ghostly pale face. I loved that puzzle!

    As you say, there is something soothing and meditative about making order out of all those jumbled pieces. I can’t think why I haven’t purchased one as an adult except for this: I’ve been thinking about it as a luxury for all these years. Dragging along with me into the future the story from young childhood that a new puzzle costs too much! ROFL

    This is the 2nd time in as many days this topic has come up for me: the beauty of being able to re-write our stories. I’m going to go out and buy a fucking jigsaw puzzle for my Yule gift to myself tomorrow!! Thank you for this! ~warm hugs~

    Happy Holidays, My Dear Friend.


  2. Susan December 20, 2010 at 8:05 pm #

    What a wonderful comment, thank you! It’s true, it’s amazing sometimes the stories we carry forward that we THINK are true. Go splurge on 2 puzzles! And Enjoy!

  3. Susan T. Blake December 20, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    PS to Jenny – I will buy myself a puzzle, too. And a bottle of champagne! Hugs!

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