Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lessons from the Inside of a Mayonnaise Jar

Working full time, volunteering and doing the work to pave the way for the life I want to live has gotten a bit overwhelming. I can't remember the last time I went to sleep before 3 a.m. and I am always up by 7:30--though I may hit the snooze button for 15 minutes or so. I'm truly burning the candle at both ends and lately I see my passions taking a back seat. 

Feeling overwhelmed and in need of a reality check about what was important, I started sorting through my daily inspirational e-mails. Among them, I found the story of the professor with the mayonnaise jar. You may have heard it before but for the last month, I've continually returned to it for a reminder that I can't put the small things first. When I do, there is no room for what's truly important. I begin to feel uncomfortable and frustrated. When I put the important things first, I can generally shuffle the smaller things around and make it work.

For whatever reason, this story--though I've heard things like it before--really focuses me. Seriously, I'm thinking of getting a mayonnaise jar for my desk. If I do, I'll let you know. In the meantime, read (or re-read) the story. I'm going to do the same and then have a cup of hot chocolate (too late for coffee) with the husband. It's been a crazy, hectic week for both of us and we need to catch up. It's a golf ball kinda thing (you'll get that after reading the story).


A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and fills it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “YES”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions. Things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.” he said.
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “There is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you…” he told them.

“So… pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Worship with your family. Play with your children. Take your partner out to dinner. Spend time with good friends. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

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

The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

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