The Jar Analogy

a picture I accidentally took of my steering wheel this morning

Ever heard of the jar analogy? It comes in many forms, I’m sure, but it goes something like this:

Imagine you have a jar, and you start putting golf balls in it. Once you can’t fit any more golf balls in it, would you say it’s full? Sure, of course you would. No more golf balls can go in.

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Then you grab some marbles and start putting them in the bucket. They’re small, so they fit between the golf balls and you find that you can actually fit a lot of them in there. So you keep filling it up until they reach the top. Now is the bucket full? You’re not so sure. But you can’t fit any more marbles in, so you say, with a little less conviction than before, “yes.”

You see where this is going?

Take a bag of dry sand and pour it over the marbles and golf balls. Shake the jar a bit to get it all down into the bottom. Fill it to the top. Is it full now?


The point is, the jar is like your life. And the golf balls are some of the big things you have at any given phase of your life. School. Athletic pursuits. Friends. Travel plans. Your job. A significant other. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have any more room in your life for new things, but then something comes up. You go from school to work and suddenly you’re in the office 40+ hours a week instead of in class for 20. But you still do all the same things after work, it just takes a little more planning, and maybe a little less staying up ‘til 2am.

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Then you get involved in a local charity that somehow you make fit into your life because it means so much to you. Or you get a pet. Or have kids. Or all of the above. Kids are one of the ultimate jar-fillers in life, in terms of filling up the space you didn’t know you had. They’re like pouring water into the sand-filled jar. No one can truly understand how much space kids will take up in your life, until you experience it.

But lots of things can be like that - an unexpected family tragedy, or job loss. A divorce. Or a wedding. Or the project car of your dreams. Somehow you make time, you make space in your life, where it felt full already. These are the things that pour water into the jar to fill up the imperceptible spaces between the grains of sand, until there is no more room, no more hours in the day, no more mental space to make. The analogy doesn’t usually go that far, but it does in my head. It’s supposed to be a positive message about how there’s always room, but taken to its logical conclusion, it can feel restricting.

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This time of year it can really feel like my proverbial jar is full to the top, and all I can do is try to keep the jar from overflowing. I want to cap it but can’t find the lid. Work is busy, my coaching job is starting up for the season, I need to do First Aid and CPR recertifications; there are tons of holiday parties to juggle, birthdays, holidays, Christmas presents, vacation plans, and oh yeah the normal stuff like planning meals, grocery shopping, laundry, snow removal, firewood, house cleaning, car maintenance, and oh yeah making time for my wife and kids. I really struggle with this month sometimes.

I have to take a step back. Am I really maxed out? Planning ahead and being organized goes a long way toward keeping things under control. Asking for help, honest prioritization, and diligent time management are requirements, even if they’re not always my strengths. I can feel my anxiety start to get the better of me, until I look at a calendar, talk to my wife about the coming weeks, make a to-do list, start crossing things off, spend 15 minutes snuggling the kids on the couch, rinse and repeat.

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I want to look back on the years when my kids were little, and remember how much fun we had with them. It can be hard to see it when I’m just trying to get the kids out the door 5 minutes earlier than usual so that my son can do his banking thing at school - which is ONLY from 8:00 to 8:10 and only on Thursdays. But it’s worth it. Just when you think you can’t fit anything more, you’re wrong. Toss in a drop of food coloring, and again, suddenly, magically, you can see how there’s always room for more color in your life.

credit: petrolicious. I love everything about this car, even the plate. I could make room in my life for this car. Who needs a house?

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