Prioritizing Values by Aviva Meshwork


A teacher placed an empty glass jar on her desk at the beginning of class one day.  Carefully, she placed some large rocks at the top of the jar and asked her students, “Is this jar full?"

They replied, “Yes!” 

Then the teacher poured gravel into the jar, filling the spaces between the large rocks, and then asked her students for a second time, “Is the jar full?”

Again they replied, “Yes!” even more confident than before.   

At that point, the teacher took out a bag of sand and proceeded to pour it into the jar until it filled all the spaces between the rocks and gravel, finally leaving no more empty spaces.  Now the jar was undeniably full. 

The teacher then emptied the jar full of rocks, gravel and sand and asked a student to come up to the front and fill it up again, but this time in the opposite order.  He had to place the sand in first, followed by the gravel and the large rocks at the end.  However, no matter how hard he tried, the student could not fit in anything else once the sand was poured in since the sand took up all the empty space in the jar, leaving no room for the other two materials. 

Finally, the teacher began to explain the message she was trying to convey through her demo.  She said, “This jar represents your life. The large rocks represent the truly important things that you value tremendously such as family, health, growth and relationships.  The gravel represents other things that matter to you, but to a lesser degree such as your job, your home, your car.  The sand represents everything else, the small stuff.  If you fill the jar with the sand first, there is no room for anything else.  And the same is true for life.  If you spend your time and energy on the things that are less significant then you aren’t making time and space in your life for the things that truly matter most.  Today’s lesson: The importance of prioritizing values.

I did this activity with a group of teenage girls that I work with.  The night before I was going to present the activity, I was busy working on it at the computer when along came one of my sons, asking me to tuck him in. 

“Sure, honey, I will be right there,” I replied.  When enough time had passed, he came in a second time, requesting that I tuck him in. 

“Sure, honey, I will be right there, I promise,” I said.  I just had a few more things to do before I was done. 

About 10 minutes later, a very tired-eyed young boy came to me again and asked, “Ima, are you coming?”  

"Go upstairs and I will come!” I said. And so he did.  And shortly after that, I followed him up to his room only to see that he had fallen asleep waiting for me. 

Here I was, working on giving a lesson about priorities while I had failed miserably at setting mine straight. The ringing sound from the wake up call is still sounding loudly in my head.

Needles to say, I felt terrible, and I took a moment or two to reflect on my values and how I was prioritizing them. When it came down to it,  it didn’t take much for me to recognize that quality time with my family was a high ranking value (a large rock), and while teaching my teenage girls is a large value, it takes on a more ‘gravel-like' substance in my jar of life.  And while the wake up call was still ringing, I also thought about the ‘sandy’ things that are taking up way too much room in my jar.

So, I am turning a new page and moving forward.  I find myself beginning to be more mindful throughout my day as I filter the activities I partake in, the people I share my time with and the general way I spend my time through the ranks of large rocks, gravel and sand.  I am beginning to get a better sense of how my core values are being prioritized and how much quality time I am dedicating to them. 

For instance, a clean home is very important to me so I invest a good amount of time keeping it that way.  A clean home for me is perhaps a larger-sized gravel piece but not quite a large rock.  This means that I have to sometimes put the broom down to tend to my large rocks (family and friends) even though I really want to finish the cleaning job I was doing.  Large rock, gravel or sand?  These are the things I am trying to be more mindful of these days.    

Just the other day, in the midst of my wake up call, I booked a ticket to Toronto so that I could see my family and friends who I haven’t seen in over a year.  Not only will I get to spend some time with the people I love, but I will also have the opportunity to meet my new nephew and create an opportunity for my family in Canada to meet our new baby girl!  I realized that while FaceTime and Skype are good, nothing beats quality time together.  So with a bunch of suitcases packed, along with bottles and pacifiers, we are off to harness our valued relationships with our precious family. 

And so I ask you, as I ask myself, what are your large rocks and what priority do they get in your jar?

Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and children.


To the Top