A professor and golf balls: How it should’ve gone

Note: Even if the story seems familiar, please go through it all the way.


A professor stood before his class with some items. When the class began, he picked up an empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. One student asked, “Is this going to be on the test?”

“No,” replied the professor, who 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.

Except for one student, who said, “Guys! Just 15 seconds ago we thought it was full and he put more stuff in! How about we think about it instead of mindlessly agreeing?”

The professor scorned at him.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. A few students responded with a  “yes.” Most remained silent trying to figure out what was going on. The one student spoke up again, speaking to the few that said “yes”, “Look guys, he fooled you twice. How about you just stop and think?” Another student spoke up, “What does this even have to do with US History?”

The professor scorned at both of them. The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. “I’m pretty sure this violates the university’s alcohol policy!” one student yelled. Many students nodded in agreement.

The professor let out a heavy sigh, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

One student interrupted, “Didn’t we determine that the jar was not full at that point?”

The professor ignored him and continued, “The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.”

Another student chimed in, “Wait, you’re saying my life would be full if I was unemployed and homeless? I’m pretty sure there would be a void in my life.”

The professor ignored her and moved on, “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.”

“If you shake the jar while pushing down on the golf balls, you can get them to go in. With enough pressure, you could probably compact the core of the golf ball and create even more room.”

“You can’t shake the jar!” the professor snapped back.

“You shook the jar when you put the pebbles in.   Just sayin’,” responded the student.

“The same goes for your 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. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Play another 18.”

“How is golf suppose to help my family? It requires I leave them for hours at a time. And it’s kind of expensive.  Do I have a job at this point or not? And if golfing can be a first class hobby, couldn’t anything be?”

“There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, -”

“OK, so we must not be homeless!”

“-give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

“Isn’t it sand and pebbles?”

One of the students raised her hand and asked, “What about the alcohol violation?”

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 beers.”

“No, I’m saying…..it would be really cool if we all got a perfect on the final for not telling the dean about you drinking during class…..you know, so we can focus on ‘golf balls’ or whatever.”

What “inspirational” story do you hate?

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