A professor of philosophy stood before his classroom silently as the last of his students filed in and found their seats. With a number of different items on the table in front of him, he waited motionlessly for the late bell then lifted a large, empty glass beaker over his head for all to see.
Like a magician showing nothing up his sleeve, he panned all corners of the room then placed the beaker back on the table and quietly began filling it with golf balls, one by one.
When finished, he raised the vessel over his head again and spoke. Who among you will tell me this beaker is full? The students, anticipating something, slowly raised their hands looking around at each other. A few answered yes, aloud.
Everyone agreed the beaker was full.
The professor placed the beaker down on the table and quietly continued. He picked up a pail of pebbles and poured them clanging into the glass container as he looked over his glasses at the group. He gave the large container an easy shake and the pebbles dutifully settled into the open spaces around the golf balls. Then he poured in the rest, topping it off.
He raised the beaker filled with golf balls and pebbles above his head and asked again, who among you will tell me this beaker is full? Again an uncertain show of hands and a smattering of yeses confirmed the glass was indeed full.
The professor stared at his befuddled students.
Still holding the beaker above his head, a tense quiet filled the room. Then, setting it back on the table he reached for another container and poured its contents into the large glass. The students in muffled mumble watched grains of sand find their way into every void left by the irregularly shaped pebbles and golf balls until the glass beaker could hold no more. The room became hush as the students anticipated the next question.
Now, too heavy to lift the professor stepped back and asked again, who among you will tell me without a doubt this beaker is full? Every student in the room shot their hands in the air certain the glass was full and the pay-off was about to be revealed.
A unanimous yes rang out.
Showing the hint of a smile, but eyes still fixed on the group, the professor reached below the table and produced a large cup. He held it up for all to see and poured its entire contents into the glass over the golf balls, pebbles and sand. All watched intently as coffee filled every last void the grains of sand had not.
This time moans and laughter filled the room.
Now! the professor bellowed, I want you all to look at this glass beaker as your life. It is strong enough to hold all of its contents inside, yet frail enough to be destroyed with one careless move.
The golf balls, he continued, represent the most important things in your life; your family and friends, your faith, your good health and your passions things that if all else in your life were lost, you would still remain full.
The pebbles represent other things in life that are important such as your job, your house, your car and your most important possessions. The sand – the sand is everything else.
The sand is the small stuff.
The professor then stood up on the table, pointed down at the beaker and in a serious, almost angry tone declared, “if you fill your life with small stuff first, there will be no room for the things that are important in your life like the things these pebbles represent.
And if you fill your life with small stuff there will be no room for the things that truly give your life meaning like the things these golf balls represent.
He leaped from the table and began pacing the floor in front of everyone. He stopped, looked at the class, and removing his glasses said softly, please realize, if you spend all of your energy focused on the small stuff – life’s minutia you will never find the energy to devote to the things that truly define your lives – the things that truly shape your existence.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, he slammed his fist down on the table.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Enjoy your family. Love your brothers and sister, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Appreciate your grandparents if you are still fortunate enough to have them with you. And take time to take care of yourself – your health, your peace of mind and your emotional stability. Without these things you are nothing.
There will always be time to play, to go to the mall, to watch television, to relax. But you must learn to appreciate the air you breathe, the ground beneath your feet, the roof above your head and the stars beyond that. You see intelligent people, everything else is just sand.
The class was stunned and remained silent.
Then one student raised his hand and asked. What does the coffee represent? The professor smiled. He seemed satisfied.
“I’m glad you asked, he said, returning his glasses to his face. That’s the one thing I want you never to forget.
He collected his papers and bag, looked up at the group and said, how ever full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend. Now go live life. Class dismissed.”