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The Mayonnaise Jar

Kim Brebach - Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why focusing on the right priorities is timeless

A philosophy lesson to change your life

A professor stood before his philosophy class, with some strange items in front of him on the desk. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill 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 them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the small gaps between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full, and they agreed that it was.

Now the professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up all the remaining gaps between the golfballs and the pebbles. Once again he asked the students if the jar was full, and the response was a unanimous ‘yes.’

Now the professor produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured their contents into the jar, filling the remaining air pockets in the sand.

The students laughed.

When the laughter subsided, the professor said: ‘Now imagine that this jar represents your life:

The golf balls are the important things – family, children, friends, favourite passions and your health. These are the things that, if everything else were lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car.

The sand is everything else — The small stuff.

The moral of my story is this: it’s important to get these things in your life in the
right order. Here’s Why:

If you put the sand into the jar first, there won’t be any room left 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’ll never have room for the things that are important to you.

So take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. The rest is just sand.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness:

  • Play With your children.
  • Take your partner out to dinner.
  • Talk to your friends.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the garage door.’

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

The professor smiled. ‘I’m glad you asked: The coffee just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee or two with a friend.’


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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