Hard rocks and beer put life’s difficulties into shape

Hard rocks and beer put life’s difficulties into shape


The COVD-19 pandemic has given every business owner an opportunity to reflect and review their focus and apply sound strategies for renewal and refueling.

This aide de memoire was provided to me by one of my sports coaches, American and 1956-Olympian, Anne Marie. She lived in Westport, Connecticut, USA. I was introduced to her through mutual contacts in the USA in September 2002.

Fortune favoured me and we were pen pals via email through to the end of 2009 while I was studying in Australia. When I graduated with my doctorate in late 2009, Anne-Marie wrote to me and simply said that her job was done.

Anne-Marie’s short story listed here gives insight into aspects of psychology and philosophy to assist in triaging for business success.

As my coach, she told me that having a sense of purpose and staying positive makes a huge difference to a person’s ability to win. Positivism and purpose matter in business just as they do with our health behaviours and general approach to life.

The key is triaging* the most important priorities first and then letting the other stuff (AKA ‘the rest’) sort itself out later on. It is important to triage to be able to put business and work-place difficulties into perspective.

You might have read or heard of this story before: the message, to apply strategic thinking to business problems in an economic downturn, is a useful one today.

As the story begins, we are taken back to the phrase Once upon a time

A philosophy Professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar. He proceeded to fill it with rocks about five centimeters in diameter. The Professor then asked the students if the jar was full. The students said that the jar was full.

So, the Professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  He then shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

The Professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They said ‘Yes’, it was full.

Then the Professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up spaces in the jar.  Then the Professor asked the students once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous ‘Yes’.

Then the Professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour their entire contents into the jar – effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

The Professor asked again if the jar was full. And the students unanimously said very loudly ‘Yes’. The students laughed.

“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 – your health, your family, your partner, your children. These are things that 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 house, your job, your car.

“The sand is everything else. It’s the small stuff.

“If you put the sand into the jar first” the Professor 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 check-ups. Take your partner on a long vacation.

“There will always be time for work, to clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the garbage disposal.

“Take care of the rocks first – these are the things that really matter. Set your priorities based on the rock’s issues and matters. The rest is just sand…”

One of the students raised her hand and enquired what the beer represents.

The Professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked that question. It just goes to show that no matter how full your life might seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers at the end of the day.”


*The word ‘triage’ means to examine problems in order to decide which ones are the most serious and must be dealt with in descending order.

Further, in the medical field, the triage process is based on deciding which patients (or matters) should be treated first based on the degree of sickness or severity of injury.

From Essentials of Cardia Anesthesia for Noncardiac Surgery, A Companion to Kaplan’s Cardiac Anesthesia, 2019, by Torin Shear MD and Joel A. Kaplan MD.


Text copyright by Fiona Rothchilds 2020 and acknowledged authors.
Uploaded 11 May 2020.

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