THE FULL JAR - 9 December 2012
Self-Portrait - The Malpais, New Mexico
There is this story of a professor at a distinguished university who begins his class at the start of the year with a little demonstration for his students. He's at the front of the class with a large empty jar and starts with this. "Let's pretend this jar represents the context of your life. It's empty now but it's waiting to be filled with the content of your life. The question is what will you fill it with. Will you fill it with the things that are most important to you? Will you fill it with things that simply soak up your time yet don't really matter. What will you fill it with?" He then takes out a bag full of sizable balls, baseballs let's say. When holding one up to the class he says, "let's pretend these balls are the most important things in your life. Let's say they're your family. Your connections. Let's say they're what you consider most important to your life." Then he proceeds to fill the large empty jar full to the top with the baseballs. He fills it so there's no more room for baseballs. It looks full of baseballs.
After that, the professor asks the students "do you think this jar is full?" The students mumble among themselves. There's no standout answer. I suspect some think there's a trick to this question but don't say anything. There is a trick, of course. The professor reaches from behind his counter and pulls out small balls. They're the size of big marbles. The professor next says "let's say these marbles are the things that aren't so important but are necessary to your life. Let's say the marbles are the things you need to get done as anything is in any life. There's always something that's not so important to you but always has to be done. Let's say they're the paying bills part of your life". The professor then proceeds to fill the jar with marbles. Between the nooks and crannies of the baseballs, the marbles fill the space. There are a lot of marbles. The jar is miraculously beginning to look more full. The students are beginning to catch on.
Then the professor ask again "do you think this is full? Is there room for more stuff?" Of course, the students are getting the exercise. There's room, of course for more in the spaces between the important baseballs and necessary marbles. Before the students can answer, the professor brings from behind the counter a gigantic bag of sand. He says "let's say this bag of sand, the little elements of sand represent the things that matter not to your life. They're the things that take time but are neither related to the mandatory parts of life like the marbles. Nor, are they the same as the most important parts of life. Is there room for this sand?" Of course everyone knows the answer and watch as the professor fills the jar with sand. Every nook and cranny between the baseballs and marbles are now filled with sand.
Everyone seems to be onboard with where this professor is going. They see there's room for everything; what matters, what's required, and even things that don't matter. Then the professor pauses and asks a question. "What would happen if your filled your jar with the sand first? What would happen if your reversed this process and started filling your jar with the things that mattered least, the sand. What if you started there first. Once you filled your jar with sand, how much room would you have for the most important things, or even the necessary things in life?"
There's a pause in the class as this perspective slowly sinks in.
The point is obvious here. If you start filing your life with the unimportant things first, there will be little room for the necessary or most important things. However, if you always start with the most important, then the necessary, then finally you get to the sand, you'll find you have a full life.
This seems obvious but the application of this philosophy is much more elusive. In today's day and age of convenience and the Information Age, it's very easy to fill our lives with very unimportant unnecessary things. Add on the necessary things but less full filling, then you're left with no room for the most important stuff. The priority is important. This success of applying this philosophy is the sequence. The sequence being fill with what is most important, then go down in priority. Somehow it will seem you will always have room for the mundane and unimportant no matter what you're doing.
If you're worried about not having enough time to do those things with less priority if you're always taking care of very important things first, don't worry. Somehow life has a way of figuring out how to fill the nooks and crannies. It always seems to work out.