A Professor and a Jar, and a Timeless Lesson on Life’s Priorities

Love this lesson.

In a bustling philosophy classroom, a professor prepared to impart a lesson that would transcend the boundaries of academic discourse. On the table before him lay an assortment of items: golf balls, pebbles, sand, and two cans of beer. With a sense of purpose, he lifted a large, empty jar and began his silent demonstration.

A Professor, a Jar full golf balls, and a Timeless Lesson on Life's Priorities

First, he filled the jar with golf balls, each one settling into place with a satisfying clunk. Turning to his students, he inquired, “Is the jar full?” The consensus was unanimous: the jar was full.

Undeterred, the professor reached for a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. As he gently shook the jar, the pebbles maneuvered their way into the gaps between the golf balls. “Is the jar full now?” he asked again. The students nodded, now more intrigued than before.

The professor proceeded to introduce a box of sand into the equation. As expected, the fine grains filled the remaining crevices, leaving no room to spare. “Is the jar full this time?” he questioned. The students, catching on to the pattern, responded with a resounding “Yes.”

With a twinkle in his eye, the professor unveiled two cans of beer from beneath the table and emptied their contents into the jar, saturating the sand. Laughter erupted throughout the room.

“As the laughter subsides,” the professor began, “consider this jar as a metaphor for your life. The golf balls symbolize the essential components—your family, your health, your closest friends, and your most cherished passions. These are the elements that, if all else were lost, would still render your life meaningful and complete.”

“The pebbles,” he continued, “represent secondary priorities like your job, your home, and your car. Important, yes, but not essential for a fulfilling life.”

“And the sand? That’s the minutiae—the trivial matters and daily distractions that can easily consume us if we’re not careful. If you prioritize the sand, you’ll never have room for the pebbles, let alone the golf balls.”

“So, what’s the takeaway? Focus on the elements that are crucial to your happiness and well-being. Spend quality time with your family, prioritize your health, and engage in activities that bring you joy. The rest is just sand.”

A student then raised her hand, asking about the role of the beer in this metaphor. The professor grinned, “Ah, the beer! It serves as a reminder that no matter how busy or complicated life may seem, there’s always room to relax and share a couple of beers with friends.”

This timeless lesson from the professor and the jar serves as a poignant reminder to all of us: life is about choices and priorities. Make room for what truly matters, and the rest will fall into place.

If this helped you, it will help somebody else!

You've just read an article by Steven Webb —  Guiding you through the most difficult times. Here is a link to my podcast Stillness in the Storms and Inner Peace Meditations.

I write to arm you with resilience and inner wisdom, helping you find calm in life’s chaos. Follow me Medium or on substack.

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Steven Webb

Steven Webb is a renowned meditation teacher with over a decade of experience. Known for his unique approach to quieting the busy mind, Steven navigated through a life of adversity to find his own inner peace. Now, he shares his wisdom to help others build resilience and find tranquility even in life's most turbulent times. Through his writing, courses, and podcast "Stillness in the Storms," Steven empowers people to discover their own sanctuary of inner peace when they need it the most.
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