If the awesome weight of an entire year can revolve around a solitary moment, a bitingly frigid windswept beach is the place to make it happen. On this first day of the Netcito Member Retreat, I stand rooted in the sand with 30 other entrepreneurs. Our journeys have brought us from Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Baton Rouge among other far flung homes. Together we confront a vast blue expanse stretching to the horizon.
Each of us brings a stone and a small vial. The stone represents something from the past year that we want to let go of. The vial stands for something that we want to keep as we embark on the year ahead. In a moment, each of us will throw our stones into the oblivion of the churning surf. Then we will fill our vials with the sand under our feet, creating a symbol of this pivotal moment.
One of our fellow entrepreneurs shouts from the circle, “Peter, tell them about the sand in the jar!”
Wait. That wasn’t part of the script that we so carefully orchestrated! I take a deep breath. I need to relax, answer the question, and let go of my rigid ways.
The wind is whipping across the beach. My fingers are numb. One of our guests didn’t bring a coat. I need to make this quick.
It’s an elegant principle. Imagine yourself in a room with a jar and three piles: rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you want to fill up with jar most material possible, in which order do you place them into the jar?
The simple answer illustrates a valuable principle for any leader, particularly an entrepreneur:
- You start with the rocks. They represent the most important things in your life and your business; health, people, and purpose.
- Then you add the pebbles: These are the smaller things that have to get done, although they aren’t as important. This is an old story that I inherited, and to be honest I’m not sure that anyone knows exactly what the pebbles represent.
- Finally you add the sand: These are all the urgent but not important tasks that constantly overwhelm entrepreneurs: email, to-do lists, and emergencies. The sand flows around the rocks and pebbles to take up the remaining space.
If you start with the sand, the rocks won’t fit.
Somehow I manage to share this story before we all got frostbite. Someone reminds us that our jars will only hold a limited number of rocks, so we need to choose them carefully. Then each of us dips our vial into the sand, creating a tangible reminder of our intentions for the year ahead.
Turner Hoff, Co-Founder and CEO of Vegetable and Butcher, shared the moment with us. He didn’t settle for just a vial of sand. Instead, he added rocks as a reminder to focus on the things that really matter in the year ahead. It’s a small work of art.
After seeing Turner’s example, I took another look at my vial and realized that it had way too much sand in it. I’m adding more rocks. I already pushed aside one business meeting so that I could hike in the woods with a dear friend and mentor. Yesterday I decided that this will be the year that I learn to sail yachts. Those are my rocks right now. The business pebbles will follow.
As you prepare for your Netcito meeting this month, consider the following questions:
- If you get 3-5 rocks to include in your jar, what are they?
- What does putting the rocks in first mean to you? How do you ensure that the sand doesn’t fill up your jar and displace your rocks?
- What’s getting in the way of adding rocks to your jar?