I received a version of this story as an email from one of my friends and liked it so much I decided to share the original with you all…
A professor stood before his philosophy class and on the desk next to him he had a two unopened containers of coffee, a jar, and several containers of unseen objects. Once the class was seated and paying attention, he wordlessly picked up the empty jar from the desk and proceeded to fill it with river rocks.
Holding the jar of rocks out toward the students, he then asked them if they thought the jar was full. Some of the students looked puzzled, but they all eventually agreed that the jar was indeed full.
Nodding at their decision, the professor turned back to the desk and picked up another container. Facing the class again, he emptied the container of pebbles into the jar.
He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. Again, holding the jar toward the students, he asked them if the jar was full. Although some of them appeared a bit suspicious, they still agreed that the jar was full.
Nodding once more, the professor picked up another of the containers from the desk. Swishing the contents a bit, he then poured the sand from the container into the jar. Of course, the sand flowed between the rocks and pebbles, filling up the nooks and crannies.
Once more he turned and held the jar out to the students and asked them if it was completely full. The students responded with an unanimous yes, and again the professor nodded at them. He could see by their expression that they now expected an explanation for demonstration that he had presented, and he set the now heavy jar on the desk where the students could easily see it.
Still silent, the professor took the lids off the two cups of coffee, and lifing one of the containers as if to drink, he poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students gasped, and the professor laughed. Then as he lifted the second cup of coffee and took a large sip, the students laughed, too.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things, like your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions, and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
“The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, like your job, your house and your car. While 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 time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter! Set your priorities. Because all the rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised a hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked,” he answered. “The coffee shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”