Tales My Mother Told Me Volume 2: Tale 11 “Missing The Big Rocks”

My Mother told this tale to me when I was starting my very first management role with Grace Bros.(the Department store) back in the late 80’s. I remember that conversation clearly. At the time I was pretty inexperienced and didn’t really know how to prioritise my life and my work. So yet again, my Mother came to the rescue. She told me the tale about “Missing the BIG ROCKS”.

I want to share this powerful story with you now…

Back in the old Middle Kingdom there was a monk who was teaching his students in a class room. The Monk noticed his students were disorganised with their daily tasks. So he decided to teach them about how to prioritise in life.

So he gathered 5 buckets;

  • The 1st bucket has ROCKS

  • The 2nd bucket has STONES

  • The 3rd bucket has PEBBLES

  • The 4th bucket has SAND

  • The  5th bucket is EMPTY

The monk said to the students “Listen to my instructions carefully, here is the EMPTY bucket and I want you to take the first bucket  full of ROCKS and throw the ROCKS into the EMPTY  bucket”.

So the students quickly threw the Big ROCKS into the EMPTY bucket, the EMPTY bucket was full of ROCKS.

The monk asked the students “Is the bucket full?”

“Yes it is, Master.” said the students.

The Monk said “Okay, now take the second bucket  full of STONES and throw the STONES on top of ROCKS in the first bucket”.

So the students quickly followed the instruction. The STONES fell through between the gaps of the ROCKS and  the bucket was full of STONES. And the Monk again; ” This time, is the bucket full my students?”

“Yes it is Master” said the students.

“Now I want you to do the next step by taking the third bucket full of PEBBLES and throw them into the bucket that is now full of STONES and ROCKS” said the Master.

The student rushed to the bucket and followed the Master’s instruction and threw the bucket full of PEBBLES into the bucket containing the STONES and ROCKS. The PEBBLES fell and filled up the gaps between the STONES and the ROCKS.

The Master asked the students again “Is the bucket full now?”

The student answered “Yes Master, it is full”

The Master smiled and said “Now take the last bucket full of SAND and pour the sand on top of the bucket that has PEBBLES, STONES, and ROCKS”.

The Students took the bucket full of SAND and poured it on top of the bucket and the sand fell between the gaps  and  the bucket was completely full.

The Master finally said to the students “Now do you see if you take the bucket full of sand first and poured the sand into the empty bucket  then you won’t have room for the PEBBLES, STONES and the ROCKS.

So what is this story telling us?

This story is an analogy for prioritising your life and work. Learning to prioritise your steps are the keys to success, when you do them in the sequential order, you will find that you’ll arrive at your goals and destinations sooner than putting the cart before the horse.

There are times  in our lives and work where we have things in the wrong order or  have things confused and mixed up, particularly when we loose focus under pressure or stress.  So it’s very important to map out what we want to achieve in life.

Missing the “Big Rocks” is a key weakness for people who love the nitty gritty details so much that sometimes they forget the big picture. Instead of focusing on the Big Rocks you’re focusing on the STONES, PEBBLES, and the SAND that fill the gaps between the ROCKS. Sound familiar?

The truth to the story is to demonstrate this point: If you don’t put the Big Rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all which means you never going to achieve your big things in life like your long term goals and dreams.

So do your Big Rocks  first of all and other tasks that are not on the list  are just pebbles and sand and they can fit around and between your BIG ROCKS. You can do them when you have extra time.

So, what are the ‘BIG ROCKS’ in your life?

Do you have a task that you would like to accomplish?

Do you want to spend quality time with your partner or family?

Do you want to invest in yourself so you can grow ?

Your  finances?

Maybe a cause you want to reach out for?

Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all.

Take time to reflect on this tale my mother told me. Ask yourself this question:

What are the ‘BIG ROCKS’ in my life? And remember to put those in your bucket first.


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Contact Vinh direct:

vinh@artshine.com.au , +61 0410 636 138



Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.

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