Building a Masterpiece
I will never forget the day it happened. It was approximately 22 years ago. For Christmas I had received a puzzle. But, it wasn’t any puzzle. This particular puzzle was a collage of different pictures. Pictures of buildings, churches and stadiums rooted in tradition. Not only were there at least ten different pictures, but there were also 500 cardboard pieces cut and shaped in all sizes.
The picture on the front of the puzzle box wasn’t what I wanted. It merely served as a guide as I pieced together the individual pieces. After two days of fitting and refitting pieces, I locked in the final piece. The final masterpiece was better than the picture on the box would ever be. I had grand plans for this puzzle – applying a clear glue, letting it dry and framing it with the description “Johnathon ’95′” written in Sharpie.
Every piece fit perfectly. Not a single flaw or imperfection. You might be asking, “What kind of puzzle was it?” At the time, it was the coolest damn puzzle any 8 year old had ever seen. Pictures taken from all over the campus of the University of Notre Dame; The Grotto, Sacred Heart Basilica, Notre Dame Stadium, and the football locker room. The only thing better would have been to see those places in person.
I relished in the victory, but it wasn’t long before my masterpiece was shattered. See, I had a younger sister who loved gymnastics. On this particular day, she found herself doing back rolls off of the living room couch. It just so happened that the couch was perfectly positioned with the large coffee table directly in front of it. Right in path with where 500 beautifully connected cardboard pieces had finally been pieced together to form a perfect rectangle.
No need to explain any further… I think you can take a gander at what happened next.
Destroying a Masterpiece
What was left were 500 puzzle pieces scattered across the floor and two options: 1) pick them up and throw them back in the box, or 2) pick them up and piece them back together. Although a bit angry, and a few tears later, I regrouped and rebuilt the entire puzzle – piece by piece.
Looking back, I was probably a bit selfish. It was something that probably could have been prevented, yet was a complete accident. It was unexpected, and I’m certain that’s what upset me the most. For the next 15 years I would never imagine building something only to see it crumble, let alone had it been intentionally destroyed.
But there are such circumstances…
Each year in Guatemala, there is one week where intentional destruction occurs. Hands down, it is probably the most moving and emotional experience I have had in seeing a work of art torn apart so quickly. The Easter season is arguable the most celebrated season in Guatemala, particularly during Holy Week. Each day during the week leading up to Easter Sunday, processions of hundreds of people carrying massive floats make their way throughout the crowded streets.
These floats depict the Stations of the Cross, and the people carrying the massive floats include men, women (in heels) and children whom will walk for hours throughout the town. A component of these ‘parades’ if you will, entails creating ‘alfombras’ or ‘rugs’ on the streets. These intricate designs are created out of dyed saw dust and are artistically placed on the streets using stencils to spell out various words and depict symbols of religious significance.
The locals spend hours creating these beautiful designs, placing the saw dust on the ground by hand, often times completing them just minutes before the procession. Then it happens. The procession marches right on top of the alfombras. Destroying them, scraping sawdust across the pavement and blending all of the beautiful colors together. Shortly after the procession passes through, the sawdust particles are swept up.
It made no sense. Hours of placing the sawdust particles by hand, only to have them destroyed. But, I understood the greater purpose associated.
Rebuilding a Masterpiece
And such is life. You spend your hours and days building ourselves up professionally to reach the top, only to make a single mistake and watch it send you right back to the bottom. You commit countless hours in training to qualify for a single marathon and fall short by a few seconds. You make promises to treat your loved ones the best you can all the times, and you fail at the point in time when they need it most.
You develop and create an intricate product. Display it nicely and then watch it shatter to pieces.
Then, you are left staring at all the broken pieces on the ground and faced with a few choices. You might decide that it’s just too difficult to begin anew, leaving all the broken pieces and days, weeks and hours of hard work to waste away.
You may choose to pick up the pieces. Begin again, and place the pieces back together one more time. This time, more efficiently because you have seen the finished product. You know what to expect, and have learned how to be better at the said task.
Or, you could choose to sweep up the pieces, just as the Guatemalans do. Place them in a bag and learn from the experience. Spend the coming days developing a new creation – a creation that is even better than the original.
This is the decision that separates strong character from weak character. The choice that is going to cause people to identify you as a leader of influence. After all, who said a masterpiece had to be perfect the first time around?