When I was a child, I loved to collect little jars of sand and pebbles from different places I visited. And, as I recently discovered, I still like to collect it – only it’s a very different kind of sand.
Have you ever heard the story of The Jar of Life? I hadn’t, until my mentor, Patrick Dean, shared it with me recently, and I must admit that the metaphor really struck me. He told me that when it comes to life, there are three things we fill our lives with – sand, pebbles and rocks.
The rocks are the things that are most important to us, the things we dream about, hope and long for, that we most want to create in our life. The pebbles are the things we need to do, so as to have a productive life, like paying the bills, going to work to generate income, looking after ourselves (showering, eating, etc.) and recreational activities we enjoy.
And sand? Well, sand is just about everything else. I discovered that some of my sand included watching TV for the sake of it, procrastinating on Facebook, reading news websites, pottering about with spreadsheets and reading junky email… Basically, a lot of nitty gritty activities that I was convinced I “had to do”. The trouble wasn’t so much the activities, but that they regularly took my focus away from things that were far more important.
Patrick told me that most of the time, we look at our Jar of Life, and we begin by filling it with the sand. We then add in the pebbles. And last – if we’re lucky and there’s any room left – we squish in a few of our rocks, in the hope that we might achieve a few of our goals and dreams. The trouble with this is, achieving our goals and dreams has very little to do with luck, and rather a lot to do with commitment and focus.
When I really took a look at my own Jar, I recognised that I had been allowing my sand to rob my time and my dreams (not to mention by bank account!), simply because I had been caught in a never-ending cycle of being “busy”, rather than productive. I have long believed that whatever you focus on, you find, create or experience more of. I just hadn’t realised that I’d been focusing so closely on sand!
So, what can you do about this problem? Well, here’s the trick: you need to take stock of what’s in your Jar of Life.
The best way to start this process is to spend time identifying what’s most important to you. For some of us, it will be our children or our significant romantic relationship. For others, it may be friendships, travel, careers or even a way that we contribute to our community. Think of your rocks as the things you always wish you spent most of your time on, or what you’re most passionate about creating – that’s usually a pretty good indicator of where your heart lies. It doesn’t really matter what these things are – so long as they’re important to you!
Once you’ve identified your rocks, decide how much time, energy or funds you want to invest in them. Allocate this as a priority – even put it in your diary – and do this first, before you get onto your pebbles! It’s also wise to create strategies that keep your focus on your goals and dreams. Some wonderful strategies can include: creating a dream board, writing motivational notes to yourself, telling others what you’re committed to (this builds accountability), allocating time to think about and plan your dream. You can even get a life coach or mentor who can work with you and to whom you can hold yourself accountable. Whatever strategies you choose, make sure there’s some fun in it for you, and build your excitement about it – this makes keeping your focus a lot easier!
Once your rocks are in your Jar, make a note of your pebbles, and schedule time for them too. I’ve often noticed that our pebbles can be a way to fund our rocks, but they don’t necessarily need to be our highest priority!
Finally, once you know what time/energy you have left, you can let in the sand, to fill the space around your rocks and pebbles. But mind the ever present Sand Trap! One of the values in identifying your own, specific sand, is that once you’re aware of what robs you of your rocks, it’s easier to catch yourself in the act.
It’s also important not to listen to that nasty little sandy “voiceover”. That inner critic that tells you you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never achieve your dreams. It’s just the sand talking – and it wants to be in your jar! Or, in therapeutic terms, it’s an old habit or belief system that no longer serves you, trying to reassert itself. Fortunately, this is YOUR Jar of Life, and you get to decide what you put in!
Yes, it takes a bit of elbow grease to keep on track… and some sweat and tears. Sometimes, you might feel uncomfortable or fearful, or worry that your dream may not eventuate. But the truth is that fear will always come up when you’re choosing something different or new for yourself, because that’s just how human beings operate in response to change; but as Andrew Gide once put it: “one doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to leave sight of the shore”.
So, keep choosing your rocks.
In the end, they’re your dreams, and you absolutely deserve the life you want to create.
[Image from here]