Priorities & Big Rocks

Here’s a short inspiring story for when life gets stressful.   There are a few versions of this epic inspirational story about the big rocks and the jar.  The original version was made famous by Stephen Covey in his title “First Things First”.  

In one version, golf balls were used to depict our big priorities in life instead of rocks. I like the big rocks version better, you’ll see why below. It is such a valuable lesson to revisit. I rewrote the story in my own words, changed several variables and added some parts, embellishing the original story with the parts about social media, cell phones and about your job/career being your passion, ie. a big rock.

Enjoy this version of this short inspiring story about the big rocks and our priorities (and passion and beer). There’s also a video version of this story included at the very end.

Once upon a time… A professor stood before her philosophy class.   When the class began, she quietly picked up a large and empty jar and began to fill it with big rocks, all of them about the size of a small fist. She then asked the students if the jar was full.  They all nodded, yes it is.

The professor then picked up a bag of small pebbles and began pouring them into the jar. She shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the big rocks.  She then asked again whether the jar was full. The students unanimously agreed that it was.

The professor next picked up a bag of sand and slowly poured sand into the jar. Of course, the sand sunk into tiny cracks,  filling them.  She asked once more if the jar was full.  “YEP!”

Then she pulled out a can of beer from under the table and began pouring it into the jar, filling the empty space between the grains of sand. This brought roaring laughter from all of the students.

As the laughter subsided, the professor said, Now consider that this jar represents your life. The big rocks are the most important things like your family & friends, maybe even your pet and your favorite passions – mostly living things. Passion can be considered a’living’ thing, right? If everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. These are your big rocks.

She paused for a moment, then continued, The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. If your job is actually your passion, then it might be included in the big rocks for some, but NEVER the only big rock. Your job won’t be the biggest rock either, because if it was, then other big rocks might not even fit into the jar. The happiest people tend to be those whose jobs are their passion. They do not just work to live and earn a paycheck, they love what they do. They feel they are making a difference in the world, even if in some small way, and feel passionate about that.”

The sand is everything else, the small stuff…your clothing and other personal possessions. That expression ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’? It’s not that it’s all small stuff, but that if we sweat small things too much, they’ve taken space (energy) away from our priorities – our big rocks. If you put the sand (small stuff) into the jar first, then there would be no room for the pebbles or the big rocks.”

“The ‘small stuff’ even includes your cell phone and computer. Now some of you maybe cannot fathom that the cell phone and internet connection could be small stuff. Yet they can become a barrier, a road block that shuts out the rest of real life.

At the very least, consider putting them away when you are with your big rocks. Discipline yourself to set them aside for periods of time each day – unplug for a bit. Put the phone away. Shut it off, and not just when you are in my class and have no other choice.”


“Do you become so ‘attached’ to electronic devices that you do not focus on the rest of life? For if you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will not have room for your big rocks – the living people and passions that are important to you. Pay attention to who and what is critical to your happiness. Get beyond the internet and your cell phone.”

“Spend time with your family and friends. Bring small gifts to show your appreciation. Call them more often than just sending a text message. Take time to feed your passions and give them priority. There will always be time to check out the latest text message or what’s on your latest facebook & twitter feed.  Take care of your big rocks first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and asked, “Then what does the beer represent?”

The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. The beer just shows you that no matter how full and crazy busy your life may seem, there’s always time to have a beer with a friend.”

CHEERS and AMEN to this short inspiring story!




P.P.S.  Video Version below…


Carolan Ross

CFO(Chief Fun Officer) at SoloSpark
Freelance writer, creative soul, solopreneur and former teacher who networks with rebels, visionaries, artists and other square pegs in round holes. I support solopreneurs with copywriting and juggling life and business to SHINE ONLINE!


  1. says

    I couldn’t watch the video on my computer – bad internet connection, but the message of the story is great. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. says

    What a great story. I really appreciate that you spent the time to show us how important those big priorities are and how often they get weaned out of our lives. Thank you for reminding us.
    I know to find out what my passions are I look to see when I am lit up, engaged and having fun but Im sure there are other ways. What other ways do you find your passions and what is truly important to you Carolan?

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