Rocks, Pebbles, Sand….Which Comes First?

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A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. He silently places 2-inch rocks in the jar until no more can fit. He asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. He says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, he adds a scoop of sand to the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. So he grabs a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, saying, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” he replies. Then he looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like watching TV or running errands.” Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Can you see what would happen if I started with the sand or the pebbles?”

As we enter a new year, full of hopes and possibilities, we need to remember to focus on the important things in work and life.  If we solve the big problems or focus on the most important things first, the smaller things in life and work will fall into place. However, if we focus on only the small priorities and projects, we will never have time for the big problems or the big priorities.

When I think of where I was a few years ago, my life was full of sand and pebbles.  I kept myself busy with a job I did not like. I thought being a good mom was having children involved in activities 24×7.  Work and carting the kids from activity to activity filled my days.  However, both were pebbles and sand.  Neither gave me the joy I wanted in my life.  I did not love my job.  Yes I was with my children, but I would not count ‘car time’ as quality time.  One of the big rocks in my life was ‘thriving at work and at life’.  The rock was there, staring at me, year after year.  But I kept ignoring it.  It took some fairly significant life events for me to suddenly realize that I had to figure out how to move the rock into my jar.

How much time do we spend staying busy with the pebbles and sand?  The pebbles and sand can keep us busy for years at a time.  Once you step back, you start to realize that your career has remained static, your big projects at work have not been completed, and you life goals are just that, life goals.  You are running in circles, existing but not thriving.

As we enter 2017, let’s focus on the rocks first.   Set priorities.  Make a list of what is important in your life. Pay attention to these items.  Spend the time with your children helping them with their homework or playing a simple game of cards.  Take your partner out for dinner.  Call your loved ones.  There will always be time for email, facebook, and work.

Many times, the less important things in life and work can distract us, filling our jar with pebbles and sand and keeping us away from what really matters.  I encourage you to take a moment and reflect, if our jar of life full of sand and pebbles or is it filled with large rocks?