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Home Columns Lesli's This & That Get Your Golf Balls Straight

Get Your Golf Balls Straight

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Lesli NolenBy Lesli Nolen

Published September 2012

My mother-in-law sent me an email the other day with an interesting parable and I wanted to share it you.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty pickle jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor 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. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed 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 glasses of chocolate milk from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

The students laughed.

The Moral of the Story – The professor waited for the laughter to subside . . .

“Now,” said the professor, “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, your favorite passions. Things that if everything else were lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

“The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your home, your car.”

“The sand is everything else—the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no 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 critical to your happiness.”

“Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house or fix the disposal.”

“Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities, the rest is just sand.”

“And as far as the chocolate milk goes, well everyone needs a little chocolate every now and then.”


I thought the timing of this story couldn’t be better. Here we are in September and it seems like life is moving full speed ahead. School is back in session, football is here and the holidays are just a few months away.

As you approach the upcoming months remember this story. Remember the things that matter most to you and let those things be first in your life. Don’t worry if you haven’t dusted your house in a week or if your baseboards aren’t clean. Spend time reading a book with your child. Have dinner with your spouse. Make it a priority to spend time with those you love.  Take time for yourself and take time to stop and smell the roses.

I am preaching to the choir on this. This is probably one of the hardest things for me to do. I am one of those that if my house is dirty, I feel dirty. If everything is not in its place I am a complete mess. I want everything in order. I prepare for the unexpected. I want to have the laundry done, the dishes clean, the floors swept and all the bills paid,  every day the same way.

I have been told my OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is so bad that I would prefer to say I have “CDO” because I need to have the letters in the correct alphabetic order! As I have aged and life has happened, I have had to change my priorities. Over the past couple of years I have really tried to set my priorities and focus on the big picture; the big things that really matter. I don’t succeed at this all the time, but I am working on it. I am a work in progress. I think it’s a lesson we all could learn from.

So as you begin this fall season, make a list of what’s important to you. Tell those around you that you love them. Share this story with them. Send this to your friends. Taking a moment out of your hectic schedule to do for someone else just might make all the difference to that person. My mother-in-law did that for me and it was just what I needed that day. So here I am sharing this with you hoping you will share it with someone too.






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