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The Rocky Road of Priorities

by Lorna Muise Alberta Health Services | October 8 2015 | 6 Comments

A professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When class began he quietly picked up a large empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The students laughed. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

"Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things—your family, your partner, your health, your children—anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed.

"The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.”

"The sand is everything else—the small stuff.”

"If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. So 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. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.”

"Take care of the rocks first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. And remember that the rest is just sand."


I’ve appreciated this version of Steven Covey’s “Rocks and Sand” story for many years. This past summer I decided to make my own jar as a reminder of this story. My children and husband helped me find many beautiful rocks. As we filled the jar, I decided that I didn’t want any sand, only rocks and pebbles.

And that’s how I want my life to be—focused on those things that are important and that matter to me. Regardless of my intentions, that darn sand keeps trying to get in my jar! For example, every fall I feel compelled to register our children in a variety of extra-curricular activities. My husband, thankfully, has held his ground. Our children do not need to constantly be busy—and neither do we (I am grateful for my rocks).

Rock solid wellness programs

I think we can all easily identify the priorities or rocks in our own lives when we have the space and time to do so. That said, it’s likely not as easy to do the same in our school or jurisdiction employee wellness initiatives. But it’s an important question that should be addressed often: What are the rocks in your employee wellness initiative?

A few tips to identify your rocks:

  • Do you know what your employees need? They are your rocks!
  • What are the goals of your initiative(s)? What are you trying to achieve? These are definitely rocks.
  • What is already being done in your school or jurisdiction to promote staff wellness? Some important rocks.
  • Who has already created a staff wellness strategy? What can be learned from them? The wise rocks.
  • What, of all the things you’re doing, can’t be dropped from the list without sacrificing results? Rocks again.

Do you have any tips for determining the rocks or important priorities of your wellness initiatives? Comment below and share them with The Sandbox community!

Lorna Muise

As a school health promotion coordinator with Alberta Health Services and a long term passion for health promotion, Lorna is one of Alberta’s central zone superheroes! Her superpower? Lorna can mimic the sound of a water drop. We’ve yet to determine the benefits of this talent but are sure they are widespread and amazing.

Matthew M. Alberta Health Services - | October 8 2015 3:23 PM

I love this post Lorna. I think we all could use a reminder every so often to focus on our big rocks. The pebbles and the sand always manage to find their place. This message has implications for both personal and professional life.

Lorna M. Alberta Health Services - | October 9 2015 10:56 AM

Thanks Matt! 

Lorna M. Alberta Health Services - | October 9 2015 11:00 AM

We've been pulling together some staff wellness tips based on what we have seen the central part of the province.  The tips can be viewed on our Wellness Wiki at:  The tips we've compiled are targeted to 6 different audiences: taking care of "myself", supporting colleagues, administrators supporting staff wellnes, parents supporting staff wellness, students supporting staff wellness, and district leaders / trustees supporting staff wellness.

I'm always looking for more ideas so please leave a message if you have a great idea to promote / support staff wellness. 

Jennifer C. ASEBP - | October 9 2015 4:07 PM

Thanks for the great blog, Lorna!  Indeed a perfect reminder.  My grandchildren select rocks when they are with us at special events or on vacation and we have put them into a jar.  But I never connected the brilliant refernce to our lives. 

The importance of wellness initiatives in this context for me is to ensure we capture an event in a way that we can display it simply and reflect often as a group.  I'm thinking we start with selections of rocks we can gather from an outing with the staff we have planned in a few weeks...hmmm.  Got to love The Sandbox for generating ideas!

Jacqui C. Alberta Health Services - | October 14 2015 10:48 AM


Megan H. ASEBP - | October 20 2015 2:51 PM

Lorna, you've captured balance and prioritization as the art it truly is.  Well said! Now, to identify what are the big boulders of wellness and ensure they settle in first!