10 Dec 2009


My father sent me a story.

During a talk for executives, the speaker performed a simple demonstration. He took out a big glass cylinder and filled it up with big spheres right to the top. “Is it full?” he asked after putting in the last sphere.

The audience was silent at first, and then a man hesitantly said yes.

The speaker smiled. He took out a bag of marbles. Sure enough, the marbles filled the gaps between the big spheres easily. “Is it full?” he asked again.

This time, the audience gave a concerted “no”. The speaker took out a bag of sand and filled the remaining space.

“What do you learn?” he asked after the demonstration.

“No matter how busy we may seem,” one manager replied, “we can still fit things in our schedule if we try hard enough.”

“No,” the speaker shook his head, “if you fill your time with marbles and sand first, there is no way you can get the big spheres in.”

What are the big spheres in your life?

Luckily, I am surrounded by people with great success. I have no problem searching for answers.

Three years ago, Boss and I were attending a conference. On the plane, he was reading Halftime by Bob Buford. When I looked interested, he explained that this was a book about mid-life. At that point, a man’s career was usually quite established. It should be time to reflect. Instead of striking for further success, one should start doing things with lasting significance.

Naturally, I asked what was significant to him. You can probably imagine he would not want another New England paper or NIH grant.

“I want my daughters to see me as a good father,” he answered, “and I want to be remembered for building a great team.”

Would I be too greedy to pick these big spheres first?


  1. Very meaningful story, but the problem is, since we do not know when we will die, how do we know when is the mid-life which is the time to fit in the marbles and the sand?

  2. That is my point. I don't see any reason why we have to wait till midlife. For example, do we really have to finish training before we can spend more time with our parents?