Business Coaching and The Large, Empty Mayonnaise Jar

I received the below e-mail the other day from a loved one.  I seldom ever read a chain e-mail past the first sentence.  This one caught my attention, and I felt it could be a good reminder and “coaching moment” for others as well. I’m not sure the source of this message but I have heard professional speakers as well as Growth Coach franchise owners share this powerful coaching message with their small business owner clients. This is the first time I saw this important message in print and I thought Growth Coach Blog readers could benefit from reading this and applying it to their businesses and lives. I did modify the message slightly to appeal more to business professionals.  Feel free to share with your friends and loved ones … your golf balls.


When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day does not seem nearly enough, when you feel overworked and overwhelmed, “busy being busy”, when your to-do list is forever growing, and when your business or employees are driving you crazy, remember this story of the MBA professor and the large, empty mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A college professor stood before his MBA class of adult students (ages 25-55, all gainfully employed, but all a bit stressed out and harried) and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty glass mayonnaise jar and started to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. He then began to prove them wrong with his actions.

The professor picked up a box of pebbles and poured it 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 hesitantly agreed it was. He then began to prove them wrong with his actions.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the tiny sand filled up the small open spaces between the other objects.  Now, the mayonnaise jar appeared to be completely and utterly filled.  He asked the class once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous and confident YES. He then began to prove them wrong once again.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the remaining air gaps and empty space between the sand. The adult students laughed.

“Now”’, said the caring and wise professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life and professional career. The golf balls are the important things/people in your life … faith, family, friends, children, health, and favorite passions.  The people and things, that if everything else were lost and only they remained, would still make your life full and fulfilled.”

He went on. “The pebbles are the things that matter like your career, house, higher education, clothes, food, car, etc.  While important necessities, on their own, they will never fulfill your heart and soul.”

The sand is everything else … the small stuff that truly doesn’t matter but consumes so much of our days, thoughts, and lives.” He then asked them to think about all the “small stuff and clutter” that consumes their time. The adult students started to get the concept.

“If you put the sand into the jar first”’ the professor 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/people that are truly important and fulfilling to you.” He was pleased and could tell his adult students got this simple but powerful metaphor.

He went on with a voice of wisdom and real-world experience.  “So … pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness, well-being and fulfillment. Take your spouse out on a date at least a few times a month and truly pay attention and listen deeply.  Play with your children often and attend their special events.  Take the time to be appreciative and practice your faith.  Take time to work out and get medical checkups.  Make time for your passions and hobbies to re-charge your battery, mind, soul and creativity.  Treat yourself to good and healthy food … slow down to actually taste your food and drink. Ignore some of the unimportant stuff screaming for your attention at work or at home.  There will always be time to clean the house, work in the yard, surf the internet, watch TV, answer e-mails, work more hours, etc.”

The MBA professor continued, “Take care of the golf balls first … the things/people that really matter the most in your life. Set your priorities and keep to your priorities. Support your real priorities with your time, attention, love, and resources. The rest is just sand.”

One of the adult students raised her 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 couple of cups of coffee with a friend. Spend time, attention, and love with your friends.”

Please share this message with all the “Golf Balls” in your life.

Working with his business coach, Growth Coach client Kevin Rains was able to better take care of the “Golf Balls” in his life.

About Daniel M. Murphy

CEO, Founder & Business Coach, The Growth Coach Business Coaching Franchise System, Certified Business Coaches throughout North America
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