Mayonnaise Jar (Anonymous Author)


Mayonnaise Jar


I have spent many years teaching and this was my favorite lesson. I often used it for my Success Strategies class, which was designed to help students learn to be effective and successful learners. I do not know the author but it is worth sharing:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.

When the class began, he wordlessly 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.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the gar. 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 that 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 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 like your job, your house and your car.
The sand is everything else-the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first.” He continued, “There is not 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 get medical checkups. Take you spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. 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. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple cups of coffee with a friend.”

Cup of Coffee


I often revisit this simple story and for myself I modify it just a bit. I make sure I have a golf ball to represent my faith. I always try to keep a pot of coffee on in case a friend stops by, and I try to stop myself when I occasionally put the sand in first. It is easy to do.

I think this story is a perfect example of why I am putting so much energy into my bucket list these days and why I am taking the time and energy to write about my experiences. I guess I am working on the golf balls of my life.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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