The Parable of the Rocks

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2 inches in diameter.

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

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

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

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up the remaining open areas of the jar.

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

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, 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, 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 your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party, or fix the disposal.”

“Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

Author Unknown

I love the visual picture this story paints of how priorities in our lives work and the importance of putting first things first. Getting our priorities straight isn’t easy sometimes. We allow little things to fill up our jars instead of making sure the most important things take precedent.

For those who struggle to prioritize – One idea is to get an actual jar and find some rocks to place inside the jar but first write on each rock the priority in your life it represents (family, spouse, health, etc) then place it by your bed so each night you look at the rocks in your jar and you remember what matters most.

Have an amazing day! And put first things first today 🙂

~Amy Rees Anderson


  • Jane says:

    I just had a long conversation with the man who introduced me to your blog. It was about this same topic. The balance between priorities and boundaries is so important and here you are reinforcing what our conversation was all about.

  • Kathleen says:

    Great reminder Amy, thank you!

  • b says:

    Then, after all was said, a student walks to the jar and opens a can of beer and pours the beer in the jar. The beer fills the empty spaces around the rocks, the pebbles and the sand. The professor is puzzled as to the meaning of this action so the student explains: “No matter how full your life is with important things like family, children, work and unimportant things, YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND TIME FOR A BEER WITH FRIENDS.

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