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By: Jamie Collins
Greetings, TPS Nation! Welcome back to the paralegal playground! Note to Readers: the strikethroughs in this post couldn’t be more intentional. We’re dedicating this post to puzzled paralegals, and impossible projects everywhere! Enjoy.
Among the gifts sitting beneath our tree for Gavin on Christmas morning was a boxed set of puzzles from Santa. The set contained sixteen individual puzzles in a wide assortment of colorful designs, each ranging from 100-1,000 pieces. The 100 piece puzzles were clearly included for those individuals possessing little puzzling patience, whereas the 1,000 piece masterpieces depicting seascapes, hot air balloon rides, and the animal kingdom, were thrown in for those ready to embark upon hours and hours of unparalleled, sanity-sucking frustration fun! Last weekend, we were sitting in our living room, when Gavin approached us to ask, “Hey guys, let’s put a puzzle together; one of the ones Santa brought me! Do you want to?” It seemed like a good idea at the time, so off we went to select a puzzle from the box. We walked up the Collins’ stairway with all of the ambition one would expect of two intelligent, aspiring, business professional parents, with lofty ambitions in search of a good project. Being a bit adventurous, but still a bit cautious, we opted for the middle tier, selecting a 500 piece puzzle from the box.
My husband and I are well aware of our inherent limitations for working together as a cohesive unit on certain types of collaborative tasks because we work on opposite sides of the brain. Chris works in finance and is the logical/reasoning/mathematical type, and I am more of the creative writer/thinker/organizer type, as those reading this blog can imagine. That being said, we determined long ago that we would never make an appearance together, as a couple, on a show like “The Amazing Race” because I would kill him, he would kill me one of us would not make it back home. However, joining the family puzzling team seemed like a completely viable option. Grab the bag, and clear the table, honey, we are taking this puzzle down!
Now, this is the part of the story that begins to closely resemble our daily work lives, my paralegal friends. You see…Gavin wanted to do the puzzle. He approached us with the grand idea of selecting and building said puzzle. We graciously agreed. We ALL (emphasis on all) pretended to be an integral part of a unified, puzzle building team…for all of about 5 minutes…at which point, Gavin decided to intelligently humbly wander away from said puzzle building experience, into an adjacent room, only to check back in with us, his puzzlers, or to verbally beckon to us from afar, for periodic status updates on said puzzle building project, which he had assigned…and promptly abandoned.
[I know, I know…insert nation full of paralegals doing an affirmative head nod here – along with a few others uttering verbal affirmations at their PC screens right now; clearly individuals who just had this very thing happen to them within the past hour in law firms all across the country, only with a grand array of legal puzzles in lieu of actual puzzle pieces. I am so with you].
I admit that in the beginning of the puzzle building experience, there were times when I wanted to quit. I was ready to walk away. I found myself staring down at a table top lined with 500 puzzle pieces – 250 pieces of which (I swear) were all solid blue. How was I ever going to get this puzzle together? I had no idea. Where should I even begin? Not real sure, but clearly I was planning to avoid that overabundance of blue pieces. Why was I even attempting to put this puzzle together, again? I had no idea. And why in the heck were we trying to do something so difficult in the first place? My ambition was fading fast. Oh yeah, it was a project bestowed upon us by Mister G, with all the excitement a 7-year-old could muster for a family project, and I was going to conquer that underwater sea scape of floating mermaids and dolphins…or die trying to make it happen. I remember now.
Just when I would find these types of thoughts flowing through my head, I would find a key piece of the puzzle. I would know right where it went. I would pop it into place, give it a confident tap of the finger to secure it, and move on. The more of these key pieces I found, the more progress I made on the puzzle, and the more determined I was to keep going. Finding, plopping, tapping, and moving on. Finding, plopping, tapping, and moving on. Slowly, I was creating something that, moments before, did not exist.
Want to know what I learned as I made my way through that puzzle? It’s not the larger portions of the puzzle that I managed to intricately piece together that brought me the greatest feeling of accomplishment. It was those moments when I found myself intently searching for one little, itty bitty piece (typically blue) that was seemingly nowhere to be found, despite my endless visual scanning of the pieces lining that table top. Those times when I searched for the same piece for 10 minute increments, on and off, trying various pieces here and there, just to see if they would fit, in hot pursuit of the one coveted piece that had to be there, but was eluding me. The same thoughts would run through my head over and over:
“Why am I doing this, again?”
“This piece isn’t here – it’s nowhere to be found. I’ve looked everywhere fifty times. It totally has to be missing.”
“How am I ever going to get this whole thing done?”
“Why am I even doing this, again?”
“Is this even possible?”
When I would find that one piece I spent countless moments searching for, I would host a bit of an internal, mini-celebration in honor of my puzzle building glory. That mental exchange went a little more like this: “Oh yeah! I found it, and I am totally going to get take this project down! Step aside, people…I am the puzzle building champion…and while you’re at it, send me more blue pieces!!!”
The irony found between those moments of puzzle building, and those when I find myself seated behind my desk in a law firm were uncanny. Whether it’s a puzzle, a complicated pleading, a file from hell-oooo my paralegal friends, or the creation of a completely non-existent strategy for a case, we, as paralegals and project achievers, go through these same phases. There are times we wonder why we are even doing the project in the first place? Contemplating where to even begin? Wondering how we will ever get it done? Asking ourselves if it’s even possible? Wondering where the “team” went?
Then it happens. We find one small and important piece of information, a key document or idea, and next thing you know – you better step aside, because we are going to take that project down. On most days, we earn our salary by accomplishing small tasks, but there are some days when we, quite literally, earn our entire salary for a full year or two, based upon our successful completion of a significant and nearly impossible project, which ultimately saves the day, the client, and often, the firm. Projects – it’s all a matter of what you tell yourself while you’re looking for the key pieces you’ll need to patch together, one small piece at a time, in order to arrive at the bigger picture. Whether it’s mermaids, key documents or a smoking gun – they’re yours to find. You are guaranteed there will be many “blue” pieces standing in your way.
Interesting, isn’t it? How one’s perspective toward a project can completely shift in a millisecond of time. One minute you find yourself ready to throw your arms up in the law firm air, waving a small, white, square, luncheon napkin above your desk, signaling defeat, as you mentally lunge personal items into a banker’s box that you haven’t yet built, at warp speed, preparing for your eminent departure out those front doors to freedom to get as far away from that project as possible…because the project isn’t happening. A mere moment later, your soul is elevated in a state of self-celebration, as you conquer a significant piece of that same nearly impossible puzzle, and you’re starting to see the bigger picture…blue pieces and all. We do this day-in and day-out. It’s not easy, but we do it. We become better for having done it. Each time we make it through another mental tennis match of impossible vs. done or project vs. amazing paralegal – party of one, we surpass ourselves.
That evening, Gavin would visit our project table or beckon to us from the periphery about every twenty minutes or so to request a status update regarding the completion level of the puzzle – his puzzle – the one he had assigned to us – his puzzlers.
And yes, he did arrive just in time to pop that final blue puzzle piece into place, smiling as big as one can smile, to signal completion of the project, and take personal credit for accomplishing the completed mission impossible.
We all know that sounds familiar!
So, the next time you find yourself in the midst of an overwhelming project that seems darn near impossible or surrounded by an over-abundance of blue pieces with no fit in sight, keep your eyes and mind intently focused on the pieces of that project before you. After all, you’re only a millisecond away from conquering a significant piece of the nearly impossible puzzle, and once that happens, you are going to take that project down, my paralegal friends. Embrace the project, master puzzlers. It’s what we do best. Find your blue pieces, and the rest will come to you. The project will make you better. It will make you stronger. You will pop that last blue piece of the puzzle into place with the confident tap of a finger, and arrive the next day better than you were the day before, in spite of the impossible.
If you need me, I’ll be at the future offices of Gavin C. Collins, Esq., industriously typing pleadings and fetching chocolate milk.
Happy High Heel Friday, TPS Nation! Embrace the first freedom festival of the New Year in true paralegal style…turn off the phone, lock the door, and RUN!!! Seize the weekend, bask in the endless possibilities of how to spend your time, and make it a great one!
We’ll see you on Monday.