The Jar and the Rocks

A professor stood before his philosophy class, picked up a jar, and proceeded to fill it with rocks. He asked the students if the jar was full. The students indicated the jar was full.

Then the professor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He asked the students again if the jar was full. The students again indicated the jar was full.

Next, the professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar, and the sand filled in the gaps between the pebbles. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students replied “yes.”

Then the professor filled two glasses of water and poured the water into the jar. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things—your health, family, and friends. From the beginning to the end of your life, this is what will always matter the most to you. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your education, work, country, and culture. If everything else was lost and only the rocks and the pebbles remained, you would still have a full life.

The sand is everything else—the small stuff. It is the prestige and material things that add to our lives but are not important and we do not need. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the rocks or pebbles. So it is with your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will not have room for the things that matter the most and are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to you and your loved ones’ long-term fitness and well-being. Take time to get medical checkups, a good night’s sleep, and exercise. Spend time with your spouse, children, parents, grandparents, and friends. Apply yourself in school, do your best at work, and serve your community and country. Understand what is best about your culture and teach it to your children.

Know who and what matters over time. Prioritize and schedule time for these people and activities first. Take care of the rocks and the pebbles—the things that really matter first. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the water represented.

The professor smiled and said, “I'm glad you asked. The water represents the serendipity of life or unexpected pleasant surprises that come our way when we get the rocks and pebbles right, when we treat others as we want them to treat us, and when we regularly give our best effort. As the water fills the jar, so serendipity and the streams of positive effects that accompany Winning Perspectives and Practices fill our lives.”