The Mayonaisse Jar

I love this story. I thought you might too.

An old professor stood before his philosophy class. The students were all sitting silent, waiting for class to begin. They were observing the professor, because today something special was about to happen.

The professor had some items in front of him.

The class began. Wordlessly, the professor picked up a very large and empty glass jar. It turned out to be an old mayonaisse jar. He proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He filled it until no more golf balls could fit.

He then asked the students a question. “Is the jar full?” he asked.

“Yes” they said. They all agreed that it was.

“Good” the professor said, and 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, filling the space. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They all agreed it was.

Carefully, the professor next picked up a box of sand. He poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else, all of the empty space left. 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 and giggled a little.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to visualize.

Visualize that this jar represents your life.

The big golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your close friends, and your favorite passions. Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. Just like you said the jar was, when only the golf balls were there. And if one single golf ball would disappear, the jar would not be full anymore. Just like life.

The pebbles are the other things that matter but that you can survive without. Like your job, your house, your pet, your expensive clothes, flat-screen TV and your car. They are very nice to have, but you don’t really need them.

The sand is everything else – the small, trivial, stuff.

So, what is the message I want to give?”

The class was silent….

“If you put the sand into the jar first…” he continued, “…there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. Correct?”

The class nodded

“The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, pouring them into your mayonaisse jar, you will never have room for the things that are truly important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your life.  Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. Then, take care of the pebbles. And the rest is just sand!” Let things which are not truly important slide.

One of the students raised her hand eagerly. “But professor, what does the coffee represent?”

The professor smiled.

“I’m glad you asked that question. Because no matter how full your life may seem, with all the golf balls, pebbles and sand, there’s always room for a cup of coffee!


  • dira heavenly
    jesse, nice post! love it :-D
  • RDS
    A really good example..! But in my case, job is always bigger than a pebble and has become a golf ball sometimes :)
  • This is an old lesson which began almost with internet, passing from one to another as an e-mail. The original version instead of coffee has beer and says: "there's always room fos a beer with a friend"...
    • RDS
      May be. Above post does not describe it as author's own experience. There may be many versions of the same story.
    • True, and it's great, isn't it! ;)
      • RDS
  • Carissa
    I love this...!!!! :)
  • Cory
    I love this post!
  • markus kulic
    That was good. Thank you.

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