There's an old story about a motivational speaker's illustration of life's priorities and the quest for happiness. In front of a large audience, the speaker was alone on stage with a table covered with a cloth. Promising to show the audience the secret to success, fulfillment and a great life, she pulled out an old-fashioned pickle jar, set it on the table and said that the jar represents your life.
She then pulled out a bucket with some fairly large rocks and proceeded to fill the jar, and asked the audience if the jar was full. Naturally, most responded that it was. With a sly grin, she then asked if they were sure and reached for a second bucket that had small pebbles in it. With care, she managed to get a couple dozen pebbles to drop down in the spaces between the larger rocks and again asked if the jar was full. Again, most of the audience agreed that it was, although with some hesitation.
She then pulled out a bucket of sand and carefully poured several pounds of sand into the jar. Asked if the jar was finally full, the audience was doubtful and cautiously answered, "Probably not." The speaker then pulled out a bucket of water and slowly poured most of the bucket into the jar.
Finally, she stepped across the stage and asked what lesson was to be learned, and a confident young man called out, "That you can always squeeze more in!" The speaker agreed that was good, but suggested there was a far more important point.
She then said something I've never forgotten. "To get the most out of life, you have to put the big pieces in first."
If you allow your life to be filled with water, sand and pebbles, you'll never have room for the "big pieces." Never allow your life to be consumed with the "small things." Schedule and commit to your "BIG PIECES" in 2014. Put them on the calendar. Mark them in red. Announce them publically and let nothing stand in your way!
So, what are the Big Pieces?
Obviously, everyone has their own list, especially when it comes to the specifics. But I've been saying for years that, in a general way, there are five universal Big Pieces that we all need to consider.
1. Business and Career. What are you doing with your life, your time, your talents and skills, your energy and your resources? Are you playing big enough? Are you making a difference? Aim high in 2014.
2. Money and Finance. At one level, money is one of the "small pieces" in life. Never trade your life, or your integrity, for money! But money is also the value the world pays for your work. Money opens doors and creates opportunity. And, conveniently, it's easy to track! Money is a tangible representation of your contributions and your creativity. Manage and use it wisely.
3. Relationships and Community. The poet observed, "No man is an island." Life is to be lived and shared with folks we love. Family and friends, neighbors and colleagues are truly the Big Piece that makes life worth living.
4. Spirituality and Personal Growth. What is the upper limit of human happiness? How alive could you possibly be? I love the observation that, "You cannot learn less!" What skills or talents will you develop in 2014? Who could you become and what gifts lie just beneath the surface, waiting for you?
5. Adventure and Fun. "All work and no play makes Jack (and everyone else) a dull person." Life is about mischief and risk, about games and jokes and shared memories. It's about trying new things, making mistakes and learning from them. It's about getting outside your comfort zone to see what else is possible.
As you plan for 2014, start with the Big Pieces. You'll have your own list of specifics, but be sure to live the life you truly want. Stretch and try things. Explore and dare yourself to become the person you know you are meant to be. There's always room for the small things, but the Big Pieces depend on you and only you can make sure they are put in place first.