Pieces. Man hiking on crossroads at sunset in countryside

Pieces of Life—Choosing your own Path

When it comes down to it, life is an exercise in putting together a multitude of components that are part of, or could be part of, our lives. We are constantly trying to piece together the right elements in the right combination to be happy, to make a living, to raise our families, and to become the people we want to be.

I’ve always thought of these as “blocks of life.” We can think of the fundamental blocks that make up our lives—family, job, friends, activities, and outlook—but when we think about what each of these is made of, we find that there are an enormous number of components and potential components that we might incorporate into our lives and many ways that we can organize them that would give our lives different emphases.

Loose Parts vs. Legos

A good way to illustrate this idea is to think about it in terms of children’s toys. Simon Nicholson developed the theory of loose parts in a 1971 article. This theory suggests that materials provided to children that can be put together, taken apart, and otherwise tinkered with can enhance inventiveness, creativity, and discovery. Legos, on the other hand, come with a set number of pieces and specific instructions for putting them together. This kind of activity certainly enhances children’s development, but in a very different way.

We can think about the components of our lives in a similar way. Many of us think of our lives in terms of Lego sets. We have expectations (Lego instructions) about what kind of lifestyle we’ll have, our family, our activities, and our education. There is often little perceived room for creativity. Ultimately, however, your life is your own. All of the paths and components in your life are loose parts, for you to put together and take apart as you will.

Using Nature as an Example

Nature is the ultimate example of many variables coming together in patterns that work. It’s fascinating when you think about it. To begin with, we had to have the foundational pieces present for life to even exist—the right amount of gravity, an atmosphere, the right temperature, sunlight, water. All the conditions had to be perfect for life to even begin. The complex system of climate and habitat then allowed life to evolve in its various forms.

The loose parts that make up natural systems are constantly combining and recombining based on conditions, pressures, and other influencing factors. The result is that natural systems are highly variable and take very different forms depending on where they are and what natural elements are present. We can think of our lives this way too. Depending on what life components we choose and emphasize, our lives can take very different forms—none fundamentally better or worse than the others, just different. As conditions change, we can change with them. We should never feel we’re stuck on any particular path—we can evolve (see Evolve).

A Flexible Mindset

If we are able to keep a “loose parts” mindset as we move through our lives, we will be resilient to changes in our conditions and have the ability to roll with the punches. We will also feel a significant sense of freedom in the paths we take and the lives we lead. Because we don’t allow ourselves to be limited by expectations or preconceived notions of how our lives should go, we are able to keep an open mind to a broad range of loose parts that are related to our passions, our sense of adventure, our life goals, and ultimately, the happiness and meaning in our lives.

Whenever anyone says, “You have to do this,” or “You can’t do that,” or “Why haven’t you done this yet?” it should be a red flag. Don’t feel like you have to do anything—any big decisions should ultimately be made by you. Of course we should be open-minded to the advice of others, especially if it is coming from a place of love. But if anyone says, “You have to…” politely say that you don’t have to do anything.

We should also be wary of the other side of the coin. We should never do something or not do something out of spite, or just to be rebellious. We don’t want to make mistakes or miss out on opportunities just to prove a point.

The world is a place of limitless opportunity and wonder—it’s up to us to take the most meaningful path.

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