Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

At the beginning of a philosophy class at university, the professor stood with some innocuous looking items on his table – an empty mayonnaise jar, some rocks, some pebbles, and some sand. The college students looked on with interest, wondering what the professor was up to and unable to guess what the demonstration was going to be.

 

Without saying a word, the professor started putting the small rocks into the mayonnaise jar one by one. The students were puzzled, but the professor did not offer any explanation just yet. Once the rocks were up to the neck of the jar, the professor spoke for the first time that day. He asked the students if they thought the jar was full. The students unanimously agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up the pebbles on his table and slowly poured them into the jar. The small pebbles found their way in between the larger rocks. The professor then lightly shook the jar to allow the pebbles to settle in the open spaces in the jar. He then again asked the students if they thought the jar was full, and the students again agreed.

The students now knew what the professor would do next, but still did not understand why. The professor picked up the sand and poured it into the mayonnaise jar. The sand, as expected, filled up any remaining space in the jar. The professor for the last time asked his students if the jar was full, and the answer was again a resounding yes.

The professor then explained that the mayonnaise jar was an analogy for life. He likened the rocks to the most important things in life – good health, your spouse, your children – all the things that make life complete. He then compared the pebbles to things that make your life comfortable such as your job, your home, and your car. Finally, he explained the sand is the small stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Putting the sand in the jar first will leave no space for the rocks or the pebbles, the professor elucidated. Similarly, cluttering your life with the small stuff will leave no room for the big things that really count.

Pay attention to everything that is essential for a happy fulfilling life. Spend time with your children and spouse. Fixing the disposal and organising that dinner party can wait. Holding a grudge against someone is not worth your while. Get your priorities right and differentiate between the rocks, the pebbles, and the sand.

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