I love the metaphor of life being like a container of rocks. If you fill it with small rocks, there is no space for the large rocks. It’s only when you put the large rocks in first, that there is room for the small rocks in the remaining space. And yet how many of us fill our days taking care of our small rocks first, such as unimportant work emails, cleaning out the fridge, picking up dry cleaning and filling out forms? After a day of getting everything done on your to do list, how alive do you feel? If you feel frustrated and tired, it may be that you didn’t give yourself any time to attend to the big rocks, such as quality time with family, exercising, spending time meditating or stretching, doing creative pursuits, and maintaining or finding a great relationship. At the end of our lives, we will not remember the small rocks, but we will know whether we attended to our big rocks and others will remember as well.
This week for me, in the whirl of back-to-school for two children at two different schools, my life seemed to be filled with endless little rocks: piles of laundry, gifts for last-minute parties, orthodontist appointments and other drudgery. In the past, I made the mistake of thinking that the goal was to take care of all those endless little things, and only when they were finished attend to the big things that matter, like getting in shape, building my business, and singing. So many of us are perfectionists who feel somehow even now as adults that we are still being graded on how we live our lives. We want to be good and do the right thing and respond to emails within the hour and be all things to all people. But we’re tired. And after a certain point, if we’re lucky, we realize that the little rocks don’t fill our spirits; they just crowd our to do lists. It’s the big rocks that matter.
This week, if you had come by my house unannounced, you would have found laundry that was partly folded for days and kids digging through it to find their soccer uniforms. You would have seen very strange meals of leftovers for a few nights since my husband and I had evening commitments and no time to cook. You would have seen our kids eating way too much ice cream, not to mention the backlog of emails and the ongoing clutter in my office. But you also would have seen lots of snuggling with my kids, lots of talking and listening, time for walks, lots of laughter, and connecting with family and friends. This week I noticed the leaves were turning into a brilliant red and delighted in a bright orange sunset, went on an evening flashlight walk with my son through the neighborhood, and spent extra time talking with my teenage daughter about life before I dropped her off at school each morning.
To find your world stage, identify what your big rocks are. For me, it’s family and close friends, music and writing, coaching, travel, and spending time in nature. One great way to identify your big rocks is to make a list of what matters most and keep it where you can see it. In addition, watch out for your small rocks, because they will flatten you and steal your joy if you try to do them all. Take time to enjoy nature as it enfolds each year, and take the time to really be there for your friend or spouse or child. The less time we spend on our phones and on social media, and the more time we cultivate our inner spirits, the better. Once we start focusing on our big rocks, we give permission for the people around us to do the same.