My family was obsessed with puzzles when I was a kid. As a homeschooling family of four children, our obsession instantaneously became competitive. Competitive puzzling has its challenges, though. How do you keep score? How do you control for some areas of the puzzle being more difficult than others? What if Mom does some of it while the rest of us are asleep? Who’s the referee when the pieces start flying? When does the table officially convert from a school desk into a puzzle playing field into (heaven forbid) a place for eating?
Obviously, making puzzles traditionally competitive would’ve been too complex, so “winning” was reduced to one single motion: putting in the last piece.
I think my oldest brother started this because as the oldest, he had the least amount of time to spend on the puzzle and, as the oldest, he was the most competitive. All he needed to do was hide a piece, wait for the rest of us to slave over our masterpiece and then magically present the piece to receive his self-conceived acclamation of being MVP of the puzzle. The game was changed forever. My other two siblings and I started holding back our own pieces to put in the puzzle at the end. Pretty soon, “finishing a puzzle” meant stubbornly waiting for everyone else to put in their hidden pieces so that you could retain the magnificent final action.
What this really meant was a lot of puzzles with holes in them and a frustrated mom who outlawed hoarding puzzle pieces.
People hoard puzzle pieces in real life. They want to take the easy way out and still receive the satisfaction of finishing a task.
In high school, I’m sure you’ve encountered people in group projects who do just that. They know the baseline amount of work they need to contribute to get the most credit possible.
Maybe you are one of them. In some ways, I admire those who can be sneaky and shrewd for the sake of laziness because I am so mentally deficient in that area. I know I thought my brother was stupendously smart when he devised the last piece strategy. Having the strategic skills to get out of work is definitely a type of cleverness.
This approach extends beyond classroom work though, and college is not the environment for it at all.
College, with all of its idiosyncrasies, bureaucracies and paradoxes, is for learning how to pull your own weight. This learning really doesn’t take place by instruction. It’s by simply doing.
At New Student Enrollment, you will hear many tips on how to navigate the pitfalls, rest stops, pit stops, scenic views and other metaphorical road trip aspects of college. You will hear a plethora of strategies for balancing academic, social and financial realms. All of these are pieces of the puzzle of your life. What you won’t hear at NSE is that, if you try to withhold your effort until the last moment just so you can receive credit, you’ve missed the entire point of the puzzle.
Actually, I shouldn’t say that you’ve missed the entire point of the puzzle because there isn’t just one point. You’ve missed the goal of the puzzle. The points of the puzzle are really up to you.
To demonstrate the difference between the goal and the point: your potential degree is the goal of college. The person you want to be after you’ve achieved that degree is the point. And yes, who you want to be is more important than what you want to do.
You are always you and you are never your job, so the first thing should take priority over the second. You are also never your GPA.
Since the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a liberal arts university, it requires you to take general classes called ACES, which I’m sure you’ve heard all about. These classes can be a pain. They may seem totally unnecessary to your degree. These classes are like the 200 pieces of the same shade of blue sky in a 1000 piece puzzle; you may not be able to see the picture in them, but without them the picture is incomplete. You will learn things that make you a more complete person with a well-rounded perspective on the world - even though you might have to Google every other word in art history or relearn basic algebra. ACES are just one example of the many challenges you will face in college that may seem unnecessary in the middle, but they’re worth it at the end.
When my brother hoarded puzzle pieces, he wasn’t concerned with the art of the puzzle. He didn’t care about the struggle to fit together two pieces and then finding out that they are not a correct match. He wanted to win. Truly, you can’t win puzzles. Life isn’t a competition either (although if it was, Beyoncé would obviously win). Life is that cliché journey complete with pitfalls, rest stops, pit stops and hopefully lots of scenic views. It’s not about how fast you covered the miles but who you are because of the trip.
Vicki Klafter is enjoying the ride as a first-year English major. Reach her at opinion@