Boulders versus Pebbles

I don’t know if it’s because I’m approaching 40, because my kids are growing up too quickly, or what my deal is but in the last year I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on things.  My life.  Where I’m going.  Where I can improve.  I’d call it a mini-personal development kick of sorts.

This isn’t a bad thing but it certainly is a new thing – for me anyway.  You see, I’ve not been one “to reflect”.  I’m not emotional and am very even keeled.  I like logical, tangible ideas and actionable advice.  I studied engineering and work in information technology.  I prefer reading things like The Millionaire Next Door over fictional novels.

Matt Foley - Motivational Speaker
Matt Foley – Motivational Speaker

That’s why I’ve never liked those corny, feel-good motivational videos that go viral. Those YouTube videos shared on Facebook by that girl you didn’t know all that well from high school.  The one who adds a nondescript comment like “Everyone needs to see this!!!” with the requisite multiple exclamation points.

Previously, once I’d realized the namby-pamby nature of the video it would usually result in a quick redirect to

Recently, however, those types of videos have been capturing my attention and I’m not entirely sure why.

This is an example of one that resonated with me.  It’s a demonstration from Stephen Covey (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) that I’m calling Boulders versus Pebbles prioritization.

To spare you from watching the video, the premise is simple.  Everyone has a container that represents the finite amount of resources in our lives whether it be time, money, or energy.  We also have varying sized rocks in our lives.  The larger the rock, the more important that item is to us.  Little, insignificant items are represented as pebbles.

Obviously if you focus three-quarters of your resources on the pebbles in your life, your container is already very full and it leaves little room for the boulders.  If you reverse your thinking and prioritize the boulders ahead of the pebbles, you can accommodate more significant items which should ultimately lead to a more intentional life.

Because there are an infinite number of things that can occupy your time, your money, or both, I thought it would be worthwhile to name the boulders in my life.  What are those things that should have first priority when it comes to spending my time or money?

Buck’s Boulders

1. Faith – My faith in God is very important to me and keeps me centered.

2. Family/Friends – Certainly a ‘gimme’ for most people, I imagine.  Experiences with friends and family are what make life rich.

3. Travel – I was bit by the travel bug while in college and cannot get enough.  As evidenced by my Bucket List.

4. Sports – I love playing sports.  I’ve played on organized teams since age 5.  I still play adult-league soccer year-round, ice hockey for 6 months of each year and my summers are busy playing volleyball and tennis whenever I can.

Sports are important to me for two reasons.  Obviously it’s good exercise but the other benefit is the social aspect of playing on teams.  It’s a great way to meet people, especially when living in a new area.  I can’t tell you how many beers have been had after games and long-lasting friendships have been made as a result of participating in all these activities.

5. Being Outdoors – This includes doing most anything outdoors including yard work, grilling, hiking, and camping.  Being the summer and holiday season around these parts, I took all last week off while Mrs. Buck worked and the boys and I went camping.  I ended up sleeping outdoors 6 of 7 nights that week.

Notable Absences

  • Spanish – I strongly considered putting learning Spanish on the list.  I’ve spent numerous years studying the language and now our boys are in a Spanish immersion school.  I’ve determined that I don’t study the language as a love of it directly, but rather as a key to travel more intimately to places (boulder #3) by being able to speak their language.  This can ultimately lead to making more contacts that grow into friendships (boulder #2).
  • Personal Finance – While I have considerable interest and spend a lot of time learning about personal finance, I’ve realized that this rock is just an enabler to focus more resources on my Top 5 boulders.
  • Career – Work for work’s sake or for my own fulfillment just isn’t on my radar.  I’m not the corporate ladder climbing-type and have little desire to do so.  The most fulfillment I get out of work is when I’m part of team and facilitating the group to come to the best solution.

What Are Your Boulders?

It has been good to go through this exercise because it boils down what is most important to me and where I should have no qualms spending my time or money.

This is why I eat PB&J sandwiches for lunch at work four days a week but won’t think twice about spending $400 on a new pair of ice hockey skates.  What I eat for lunch at work isn’t a boulder.  The skates, on the other hand, will last for at least 10 years and I’ll use them a couple of days a week to get exercise playing a game I love and to socialize with my buddies.

I suspect many of us share a couple of these same boulders in our lives.  Do you have any that would be considered a little off the beaten path?

15 thoughts on “Boulders versus Pebbles”

    1. I agree. My spiritual life is a top priority, although sometimes I neglect it more than I should. I also enjoy watching sports. Sounds like you have a very balanced and active life. I agree with you also that climbing the corporate ladder is not a value of mine.

  1. Hmm, now you have me thinking. So many people waste so much time on so much crap (stupid TV and farting around on the Internet come to mine).

    I dig your 2, 3 and 5. Really good friends are one of the best things in life. What is the Shakespeare quote? “Keep good friend’s close?” There are so many places I’d love to see. I’ve been to 40 states in the USA, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Then there is the whole rest of the world.

    I absolutely love to read. I subscribe to multiple newspapers and at least 10 different magazines ranging from motorcycles to economics. I also enjoy a mix of non-fiction and fiction books. The last one is a pebble, but I just find Stephen King so damn enjoyable!

    1. It’s funny you mention Stephen King. In an attempt to improve my craft a bit here on this blog, I happen to be right in the middle of his book On Writing.

        1. Yeah, it’s pretty good for what it is. It’s labeled as ‘a memoir of the craft’. The first half of the book is autobiographical and King tells funny and sometimes sad tales from his youth and how he came upon the ideas behind writing his early novels. The second half of the book is dedicated to his tips and tricks to good writing, specifically that of good fiction and story telling. But a lot of the stuff he talks about is relevant to any sort of writing. It’s a quick, easy read and I would definitely recommend it.

  2. Perhaps the reflection is because you are closing in on your $1.25M goal and reflecting on what the next chapter may be? Great progress, looks like you’ll achieve your goal fairly soon.

    1. Yeah, maybe you are on to something, Integrator. As we march toward our goal, it definitely feels liberating and lets the mind wander and dream a bit. My next focus is determining if we truly need that amount of money or if we can become more efficient and live on a smaller amount without feeling like we’re giving anything up. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thanks for the great post! This makes me pause and rethink my priorities from a different perspective. I’ve never heard of the ‘boulder/pebble/glass jar’ concept, but I like it as its very illustrative. I agree with most of your boulders, mine would be:
    1. Faith
    2. Family (Lots of quality time with family)
    3. Physical Activity (although not necessarily sports) & Health
    4. Pursuit of knowledge (through reading and studying topics that interest me) – right now this comes mostly in the form of books on CD that I listen to in my car, but maybe when I retire I’ll have more time to read for myself 🙂

    I do love to travel, and would certainly would love to do more of it, however I don’t necessarily consider it a ‘boulder’ in my life. I would love to travel more, but if I can have items 1-4 on my list and never get to travel I would be ok with that.

      1. Its really just a more eloquent way of saying ‘reading what I want to read’. There are so many subjects that were either just lightly touched on in a college course or I maybe caught a snippet on something from a documentary; things that I want to learn more about. Its not necessarily about pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake, its about learning more on topics of interest to me.

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