Keeping track of what’s really important in life

I was one of the lucky ones.  I ended up in a job I truly loved, through serendipity one might say.  I worked hard, including many/most evenings and weekends, because there was always more than enough to do to keep going past the 9-5 routine.  I loved the sense of purpose, the sense that I was contributing to a larger good, and the sense of community.  I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it.  Not everyone can say that, I know.  But, as well, not everyone would say that working that many hours each week at the expense of what else you could be doing is the smartest thing in the world.  Because …

Even the best job will never love you back!  That is so important to remember.  An article appeared in the Guardian that grabbed my attention a few months ago with that exact title: Even the best job in the world will never love you back. So where do we find our life’s purpose?  One day later an article (and podcast) appeared in the New York Times on the same theme: Why do we work so damn much? Hunter gatherers worked 15-hour weeks. Why don’t we?  And news articles these days increasingly point out that large numbers of people – employees and potential employees – have started asking themselves this very question as the pandemic has dragged on, thinking, hey, perhaps there’s more to life than working so hard after all.  The beginning of wisdom, even if a scary thought for employers.

The reality is that for many people, their work is/was/has been their life’s purpose.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not at all.  It’s certainly better than waking up every day to a job you hate.  And having a sense of purpose is what gives our lives meaning.  But, whatever you do, be prepared for the reality that one day, for most of us, the work will end and we’ll have to find a new sense of purpose.  This is a challenge for many who retire without having giving this any thought in advance, for those who haven’t found the time to develop any non-work interests.  So, pre-retirement folks, please keep this in mind.

I won’t try to give suggestions for finding purpose in your life.  We each have to find our own path.  And I won’t relate the history of how we ended up working so much harder than our hunter-gatherer forebears; I’ll save that for another blog post.  I’ll just give a hint that it all started in the early years of the new stay-in-one-place agricultural era thousands of years ago when someone decided to take charge of storing the harvest and realized that he (yes, a he) could get everyone else to do the work while he and his fellow leaders reaped the rewards.

I won’t try to give suggestions for finding purpose in your life, but I will try to encourage you to find that purpose.  Find your passions and nurture them.

A friend posted a story on Facebook yesterday that I hadn’t heard for a long time.  It’s very apropos of the question of what’s important in life, and I think one well worth sharing, even if many of you have heard this before. It’s another version of one of Stephen Covey’s seven habits for highly effective people: First Things First.  As Covey advises, attend to the big rocks first; in this case the big rocks are golf balls!

The Jar of Life – Determining Your Priorities

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee….

Ingredients

A professor stood before her philosophy class and had some items in front of her.  When the class began, she wordlessly picked up a very large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  She then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  She shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  She 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.  She 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.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “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 and your favorite passions – and 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 job, your house, your car and so on.”

“The sand is everything else – the small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first,” she continued, “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 important to you.”

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children.  Spend time with your parents.  Go out to dinner with your spouse.  Go for a run. Take time to read a book … or write one.  There will always be time to clean the house and weed the garden, or whatever else you’d rather not be doing.  Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter.  Set your priorities … The rest is just sand.”

MixedTogether

One of the students raised his hand and inquired what the coffee represented.  The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.”

“It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.”

P.S.  Some versions of this story substitute bottles of beer for the cups of coffee.  Now that I think of it, glasses of wine would work well, too.  You can set your own priorities!

Image sources: blogher.com, 3cheaprunners.com

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30 Responses to Keeping track of what’s really important in life

  1. This post is so timely, Jane. Thank you for posting it. A friend of mine retired over the summer, and has unfortunately been at “sixes and sevens” about how to proceed. She’s admitted that she’s stuck. I am going to forward this to her because I think it’s perfect. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for letting me know that it was potentially useful for someone. I know it took me quite a while to adjust to a different rhythm to life, to learn to appreciate that I didn’t need to be frantically busy all the time, that I now had an opportunity to decide for myself what I wanted to pursue (and not pursue), and that saying ‘no’ to every opportunity that comes along until you’ve decided what’s most important to you is worth doing. Sometimes a “sure, I’d be happy to” slips out before you remember your pledge to yourself, but it’s worth working on!

  2. What a great story, I hadn’t heard it before, but I absolutely love it.

  3. kegarland says:

    I like this, and it’s made me think deeper about something I’ve already explored: the idea of retirement. My husband asked me when I thought I would retire, and I told him I actually hadn’t thought about it, primarily because I live a mostly fulfilling life that includes doing what I want to do/prioritizing how I want. So, I think along with this 9-5 situation, we’ve also created some idea of retirement, which has come to mean stop working and start living lol We ought to be living the whole time, I think.

    I hope my ramble wasn’t too much.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      We ought to be living the whole time. You got it, Kathy. Our biggest challenge is to keep checking in with ourselves to make sure we’re not backsliding and spending too much time in the “sand”. 😊 And retirement, once you get the hang of it (it took me a while), gives you time to spend more quality time on some of those “golf balls”.

  4. Sarah Davis says:

    Love this! It took me years to see that while a job gave me purpose, it was not necessarily my purpose.

  5. barryh says:

    Great post, Jane. I love the story of the balls, pebbles, sand and coffee!

  6. Excellent post and so true, especially this: “The reality is that for many people, their work is/was/has been their life’s purpose.” I know two men who have retired and returned to work because they couldn’t fill their hours in a meaningful way. Wonderful that you found a way to earn money with a job you love.

  7. LiziRose says:

    Wow, this analogy is so perfect. I hadn’t ever heard this.
    I’m excited to soon get a job teaching but the one thing I tell myself is I can’t let the job take all the space in my “jar”. I do not like how there is an expectation for teachers to do unpaid labor. Both my aunts are teachers and run themselves ragged working on evenings and weekends, to follow the analogy, it’s like they have stuffed a softball in their jar instead of a golf ball!

  8. LA says:

    I love this!! Thank you for sharing this!! Made my morning

  9. Cheers to you 🥂

    I’d like to see a timely, parallel reminder for those who frantically prepare for the end-of-year holiday season. When I worked full time, many of my coworkers ran themselves ragged doing what they thought was expected of them. The core meaning of that holiday season was lost.

    • Mary Rimmer says:

      Wisdom from a friend of my mother’s (years ago, when Mum was groaning about another friend of theirs who was always determined to be super-organized and ‘ready’ for the holidays): ‘We’ll all get to Christmas morning at the same time!’

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. I love this example. And we do it to ourselves, women that is. The beginning of wisdom for women is to identify all the things we do because we think we should, even when we’d rather being doing almost anything else and nobody else really cares anyway, and then put those things in the “sand” category!

  10. Inkplume says:

    Such a timely post for me as I told my employer last week that I will be leaving the workforce (after more years than I care to admit) effective January 7, 2022!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh, Linda, how exciting. The beginning of your next phase of life. I think you will rock it! All that extra time to devote to what you’re passionate about and to explore new or waiting-in-the-wings interests.

    • heimdalco says:

      I LOVE this post. THANK YOU for sharing. I was an OR RN for more than half my life. My job was rewarding, frightening, more than time consuming, challenging & I loved it … except for working way too many nights, weekends, holidays, overtime & being “on call.” But the job, the technology & the camaraderie with my co-workers was phenomenal. When I took an early retirement i had so much I wanted to do that I simply didn’t have time to look back. A bout with breast cancer 16 months into retirement derailed me but set me on a path to fulfill all the dreams I’d had for retirement. I hosted a local television talk show for 6 years, I’ve written & gotten published 2 books, I’m president of a successful non-profit (even during the pandemic) & my most important gift has been the ability to speak to seminars, groups & meetings about breast cancer & early detection. My wish is that I’ve been able to help women through their own breast cancer journey … or helped them AVOID that journey. I have been blessed & busy with the things I love. My husband retires at the first of the new year & is worried about being bored. I’ll see to it that he isn’t. He’s VP of our non-profit … LOL Today I would NEVER be able to find time for a JOB.

    • heimdalco says:

      CONGRATULATIONS, Linda! A wonderful world awaits you …

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