The Mayonnaise Jar – and the Coffee!

Is Your Jar Full?

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar – and the coffee.

A Professor stood before his philosophy class with some items 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 golf balls.  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 rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full.  The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

The Professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.  The students laughed.

“Now,” said the Professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favourite passions – 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 golf balls.  The same goes for 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 look after your health. Take care of your partner.  There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the drains.  Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter.  Set your priorities.The rest is just sand.”

When he had finished, there was a profound silence.  Then one of the students raised her hand and with a puzzled expression, inquired what the coffee 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 cup of coffee with friends.”

I don’t know where this little story originated but it always raises a smile. If you know the author do please let me know.

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Posted on February 23rd, 2009 by

10 Responses to “The Mayonnaise Jar – and the Coffee!”

  1. Linda says:

    I really loved this wee ‘kitchen cupboard’ bit of philosophy. Good timing for me as I step back on to the ‘work treadmill’ after a week’s holiday. Good luck with the blog – it looks great.

  2. Jane says:

    Thanks Linda. It’s been around for years and I have never discovered the source but it’s worth repeating I think. Definitely don’t sweat the small stuff!

  3. Laura Woods-Dunlop says:

    This is a great story and one I shall remember when I am busy and share when others are!

  4. vicki says:

    It’s very true and it makes you think about how full your life is and yes take time for the coffee ….

  5. MJMurphy says:

    Great story Jane, very wise. This is something I will easily remember and apply in my life.

  6. linda joyner says:

    hey miss lady,
    thanks for the invite to read this and i hope to read more soon.. it was refreshing!

  7. Yana Berlin says:

    I too love this story, we need to read it every so often to remind ourselves how fast time flies and how important are friends are.

  8. Georgia says:

    I Love this story … Thank you

    Life is short and I feel we must LIVE

  9. Ros Baynes says:

    Hi Jane I think it originates in Stephen Covey’s book First Things First, where he uses sand and pebbles, but I haven’t actually read it, so can’t verify. Have come across several different versions – it’s a powerful illustration.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Ros. It’s one of those things that seem to have been around for ever! I put it on blog as I was often being asked for it on my courses etc. I’ll check it out, cheers!

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