This video from Meir Kay is a few years old, but I saw it for the first time this past weekend.
This “golf ball” story shared in the video has been passed around for a while, and I remember hearing it first from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, where he used the “Big Rocks” analogy.
Here is the story from the book “First Things First“:
One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.
As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.
Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”
“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”
What are the big rocks in your life? A project that you want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these ‘Big Rocks’ in first or you’ll never get them in at all.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey,
First Things First
A couple of things.
1. I was going to write something long, but this quote below sums up my first point beautifully.
This is harder to do now than ever, but I have always worked hard to revisit and recalibrate what’s important and how I provide time to be present in those spaces and with those people. As the school year begins for many, it is important to think about what that means.
I struggle with the “do everything for students no matter how hard it is” narrative that I often see in education. I am sure that I have said or promoted something similar. But I know I have done everything for my job at some points at the expense of my health, friends, and family, and weirdly enough, that actually hurt my performance at my work. Life is a delicate balance, but, as I have said before, when we say “yes” to certain things, we say “no” to others, and that “no” can often come at the expense of the things that are most important in our lives.
2. Your “big rocks” can differ from mine and others while also changing over time. For example, I would say that years ago, my biggest of rocks was my career. But it’s not anymore. It is important, but not as much as it once was.
That being said, I remember little comments from others saying, “you will understand when you have kids” or “You don’t really understand because you aren’t a parent,” and being really upset about that type of remark. Even as a parent today, it still bugs me because I was at a different point in my life. Although my family is my most important priority now, I don’t think my priorities earlier were insignificant. It was just a different time for me, and I feel it is important to understand that what’s important in any person’s life is a very intimate and personal thing.
Considering this, I remember a superintendent telling a story about a teacher that consistently stayed really late in school and that they went up to them and shared that it wasn’t a good thing to be working at all hours of the night. The teacher shared that they had just experienced something traumatic in their lives and that working was where they felt safe and secure. The superintendent learned right there never to assume that what was good for them would necessarily be good for others.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my career. But my life has changed. What was once the most important thing for me now seems secondary. And that is not right or wrong, but it is my experience now.
This is not a post to tell anyone what’s important but to remind others (and myself) to define those “big rocks” for themselves. It is hard to do, but the shared story was the perfect nudge needed as the school year begins.