Be Conscious of What the Big Rocks Are in Your Life

Julie Schirmer, LCSW

Julie Schirmer, LCSW

On May 3, 2012, I officially become the director of the STFM Behavioral Science/Family Systems Educator Fellowship, on top of many other commitments and responsibilities. As I approach this, I ask myself, “How will I ever fit the responsibilities of this position on top of everything else that I have to do? How do I prioritize? And, finally, what’s really important to me (ie, why am I doing this)?”

To me, the last question is the easiest to answer and was something I considered before accepting the position. I want to hang out with energized, impassioned faculty who are dedicated to nurturing our next generation of behavioral science faculty leaders. It’s part my desire to be inspired and challenged by others and part generativity.

The challenge now is discovering my priorities, knowing how to spend my time and energy, and recognizing when one commitment takes precedence over another. A new resident, a new faculty, or anyone who is in transition or chooses to get involved in something beyond his or her job faces a similar prioritization dilemma.

I find solace in the jar of rocks story that I’ve come across in leadership courses and have used in teaching.

A philosophy professor enters her classroom with a large, wide-mouthed glass jar and several bags of items. She asks a student volunteer to place small rocks into the jar to the very top of the brim. The professor then asks the students if the jar is full. The students agree that it is full.

The professor then asks another student to pour a bag of tiny pebbles into the jar. They flow between the open spaces between the rocks. She again asks the class if the jar is full. The students agree that it is.

The professor then pours in sand, which fills in more of the empty spaces. She then states, “This jar represents your life: the large rocks represent everything that is most important to you, such as work, play, family, and love. The smaller rocks are necessary but of lesser importance. Everything else is just sand. The important thing is to be conscious of what the “big rocks” are in your life. Make sure you fit them into your jar before placing anything else in, or they won’t fit. Take time to nurture, support, and develop the big rock areas, then the smaller rocks, before putting anything else in your jar.”

My jar of rocks orients me toward what I value and guides me as to how, where, and when I spend my time. The fellowship is one of my big rocks. I’m at a time in my life where my children are in their 20s and are carving out their own paths. They don’t require or need as much space in my life as they did when they were toddlers or teens. This natural repositioning creates room in my life for the fellowship.

The other big rocks are: trusting, loving relationships with my husband, close friends, and family; meaningful, purposeful work teaching learners in behavioral health and family medicine; and supporting sustainable integrated behavioral health care. The leisure time that includes exercise, skiing, music, and just plain having fun are my small rocks and pebbles.

I welcome the advice of others. What helps you prioritize the big rocks in your life?

4 responses to “Be Conscious of What the Big Rocks Are in Your Life

  1. GREAT Commentary Julie! I’d add to your insightful “Rock Story” by saying that once you’ve fit all the “big rocks” you can into the jar – that one of those “big rocks” will have to come out before you can move any more “big rocks” in. That is an important lesson I had to learn over time … and one we should strive to convey to those we teach. THANKS again for your great commentary!

  2. The next question would be since life requires the big rocks to change how do you safely exchange them as Ken suggests AFTER the pebbles and sand are already in the jar?

  3. Love the metaphor Juile…but from someone who is always trying to do more, you didn’t mention adding water to the jar! I think the whole thing would turn to mud then! Dr. Peg Cyr

  4. Just saw the same story as told by a Professor who added a cup of coffee rather than water and when asked about said There is always a time and place for a Cup of Coffee

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