Big Rocks of Life…

This is an interesting story that I got from the Internet. Like many other good stories and poems, the author of this story is also a genius who wants to remain anonymous (meaning author unknown). I salute this genius for his wisdom, but my heart is with the philosophy professor.

A while back I was reading about an expert on time management. One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and to drive home a point, used an illustration.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers 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 on to 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.

While searching the web, I found a variation of the same story. This time the story was told by a philosophy professor to his class. The professor also did all the things done by the time management expert and asked the same questions. The answers were the same.

For the last demonstration, instead of water he produced a few cans of beer and poured the beer into the jar until the jar was filled to the brim. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things—your family, your partner, your health, and your children—things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

“The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks.”

“The same goes for your 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. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.”

“Take care of the rocks 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 beer represented.

The professor smiled. “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 beers!!!


  1. Suji said,

    February 8, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Nice story. Its true, we often leave out the bigger things in life to accomodate the smaller things and by the time we realise it….its too late.

  2. James Bright said,

    February 9, 2006 at 5:50 am

    My dear Alexis,
    Let me say, this is a wonderful post. I would say so wonderful and it contains the core secret of the present day life. I have friends who consider profession and money and other things first and their family and friends, probably less important.
    This post has a wonderful message in it. I am also having the opinion that your view towards life is certainly very mature as you have selected this topic which is very relevant to the present day society. I still remember your friend who is in the states, who wanted to move his family(against their wish) to a new place, in order to get another job with a hiked salary!
    But I liked the second version, even though I have also stopped drinking about five years back ,after fighting a loosing battle with excess alcohol!

  3. Geo said,

    February 9, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers

    Cant agree more with that !!!


  4. silverine said,

    February 9, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Fantastic!!! It is strange how the physical world has so many lessons for us humans. And amazing that the author of this illustrative article thought this through.

    Loved the last line. Eventhough it is light hearted it has a message. “Never get too serious about life!”

  5. Alexis Leon said,

    February 10, 2006 at 9:44 am

    Suji: Very true…

    James: I also stopped drinking some 12 years back. But talk about drinks and smoke reminds me of the good old days…

    Geo: Enjoy. Must have had blast in Pondicherry. My first job was in Pondicherry. I was there for almost 2 years and enjoyed every day of it.

    Silverine: I can’t agree more with you last statement. That is what keeps me going…

  6. Suji said,

    February 10, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks for ur comments on my blog. Yes i can see u love books from ur pic. 🙂

  7. -poison- said,

    February 11, 2006 at 10:40 am

    🙂 the philisophy professor has some nice ideas with a coupla beers! loved tht parallel!

  8. Chacko said,

    February 11, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    “…there’s always room for a couple of beers!!!”
    LOL ….after all its 2006 naa 😀

  9. Alexis Leon said,

    February 11, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    -poison-: I love the philosophy professors version much better than the original.

    Chackochen: True. Enjoy 🙂

  10. arvindh said,

    February 12, 2006 at 3:34 am

    I liked this story too. I read your personal story and found it very inspiring. Thank you for sharing that. Also, may you accomplish many more feats (like 11 books in 4 years!!!)!


  11. Alexis Leon said,

    February 12, 2006 at 9:44 am

    arvindh: Nice you liked the post and thak you for your best wishes. I visited your blogs–loved your sketches and photgraphs. Continue sketching and taking photos.

  12. Mahout said,

    February 14, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Loved the variation! (hic) Cheers!!