Big Rocks and summer

It’s fortieth day of summer break and there are twenty-eight days or four weeks until summer break is finished for this year and school restarts. It’s been a pleasant time for rest, relaxation, projects, and a bit of renewal.

This fall marks the beginning of my twenty-third year as a teacher. It’ll be the twelfth year of blogging. I’ve written almost 700 posts in that time and there have been a few repeats, today will be a repeat of sorts.

If there is one thing I have learned in my time as a blogger, sometimes it’s good to go back before going forward. Abraham Lincoln once said or wrote or both,

 “The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.”

I know it’s probably not advisable to spend too much time dwelling on the past, for there is little to gain as the past cannot be changed. We can only learn from our past and endeavor be better and do better. Recently, I read a blog post and responded with reference to a quote attributed to Muhammad Ali,

“……. if you are the same person you were thirty years ago you have wasted thirty years.”

What Ali said is,

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

But I digress.

Big Rocks. This morning I took a purposeful walk at the Morton Arboretum. I was there a couple of days ago, on Friday, to take in the new exhibit Human-Nature. I thought I had a photo of the Big Rock, but I couldn’t find one, so I this morning I hiked to the Big Rock and back retrieving the photo below.

this boulder weighs 12 to 14 tons and hasn’t moved since the glacier deposited it here over twelve thousand years ago

It’s a big rock all right. Geologists believe the rock was deposited by a glacier in the last ice age some 13,000 years ago. Much of the upper Midwest was shaped and formed by the ice age.

But the big rocks I am referring to are the important things in my life. During summer break, I always make more time to focus on renewal than I can during the school year. I can focus on it because there is more time, I am not planning lessons, grading papers, or teaching students. I have the time to do what is important, but when school resumes, as it always does, I slowly fall back into the same pattern of behaviors focusing on what is urgent and pressing instead of my relationships, my health and fitness, and our home. It’s a delicate balance.

When I was in my mid-thirties, I attended a personal management seminar and during the seminar the leader referred to the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Intrigued and looking to learn and grow, I purchased a copy and read the book over the course of that summer and slowly began to adapt the Seven Habits into my life. It has been a long process, but each summer I try to make small positive personal changes based on the principles in the book. This blog is one of those small changes it’s related to Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind and Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw. At some point in the last twenty-two summers, I’ve re-read parts of or all the book more times than I can recall.  

Last fall O, our daughter, turned 18. She’s off to college this fall. For her 18th birthday I gave her a copy of the updated version of the book with a forward by the author’s son. It also provided me with the nudge I needed to review the book for another time.

O is much better minder of her time than I was at her age, but I think we both need reminders to focus on what matters most – our BIG ROCKS in our lives.

the path through the forest – the path of life is lined with trees

In the book, Covey uses the metaphor of a large bowl representing our life. He uses rocks, pebbles, and sand to explain the responsibilities of our lives.

In the book, Covey relates the experience to explain the concept of big rocks to a large group. Covey begins by producing a large glass bowl and several fist sized rocks. He slowly places the rocks in the bowl and when done asks the audience, “Is the bowl full?”

The audience replies, “yes.”

Whereupon Covey reaches below the podium and reveals a bucket of pebbles and slowly sifts them into the bowl gently shaking the bowl to allow the pebbles to fall into the space between the big rocks.

When finished, he asks the audience again, “Is the bowl full?” and he receives a mix of ‘yesses’ and ‘nos.’ in reply.

He then reveals another small bowl of sand and begins to add the sand into the bowl filled with rocks and pebbles, gently shaking the bowl to allow the sand to fill in the gaps.

He then asks the audience a third time, “Is the bowl full?” and he gets a resounding “yes!” in return.

At that point Covey reveals a pitcher of water and slowly pours the water into the bowl until the bowl is full to the brim with rocks, pebbles, sand, and water.

He then asks the audience, “What was the point of this exercise?”

One person replies confidently, “No matter how busy we are, we can always fit more in.”

And, by the way, it is also what my takeaway would have been, but Covey responds, “No that isn’t it, at all.”

He explains that while the bowl is a metaphor for our life, the rocks, the pebbles, the sand, and the water represent the things in our life that we must do – from the biggest and most important to the smallest and most insignificant.

He explains, that if we don’t begin with the big rocks and manage them first, we will never be able to accomplish them at all.

And that lesson is possibly the one the most significant lessons which I took away when I read the book some twenty plus years ago.

It’s also, the part of my life where I continue to struggle the most. Because it is easy to be deceived by pebbles which look like big rocks or be pulled away and distracted by tasks and responsibilities that are urgent but not important or be distracted by things which are neither important nor urgent.

It is during the summertime when life slows down when I can clearly focus on the big rocks of my life – family, faith, community, health and fitness, and school.

This past week I’ve made time to hike, exercise, and swim as part of my health and fitness big rock. It’s been refreshing to move purposefully and be present along those hikes.

As returning to school gets closer, I’ve begun to think about the lessons I’ll be teaching to my students this coming school year. Big rocks is a science lesson and it’s a life lesson mixed all into a single lesson.  Because in science there is a lot of room between the particles that makes up matter, but if we don’t start with the big stuff first, we’ll never fit it all in.

I am going to focus on the big rocks in the 28 days I have remaining in summer break and continue to grow and learn. I know today is going to be a great day, it already is. Tomorrow might be a million and six times better than today, but I have today, it is now and it is the present. So, I’d better jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, sifting through the pebbles and sand to focus on the BIG ROCKS.

How are you doing with your ‘big rocks?’

9 thoughts on “Big Rocks and summer

  1. I think my bowl is overflowing some days. I love all the great examples you’ve chosen in this post. You always find a way to make me stop and think and that’s what we all need to do sometimes.

    Thanks for sharing. Enjoy the rest of your non-work days.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. Every day counts. Thank you. Sometimes I forget about the BIG ROCK of gratitude. When school is in session they so many things that seem as if the are bigger rocks than others. The key is to make time to plan and renew. Thanks for stopping in. Today is going to be a great day! Peace.

    1. COVID has made many things difficult. But it is not changing behavior here, but we Americans are rebels of sorts. I read that today is a big day in the UK. How does that effect you and your town? Here we are pretty much maskless; the signs say wear a mask if you are unvaccinated, but I see few masks when I am out and about. Our school board meets this evening and I am certain the topic of mask wearing will be discussed. My local school district (where my kids went to school) plans to open up with no masks for the vaccinated…and masks for the unvaccinated – children under 12, but we are four weeks away from the first day of school. And still so much uncertainty… I keep doing what is best for me (or trying to) and my family. Stay safe and well. Peace.

      1. We’re in quarantine having come back from Spain so I know nothing! Lots of people are unhappy though about the permission not to wear masks. We plan to continue to use them in indoor public spaces for a while yet. Policing who’s vaccinated and who isn’t could prove challenging for you? We’re not out of the wood yet, are we?

      2. The news has been somewhat unsettling over the past week. Our school board made its recommendation Monday night and it was masks fro those un-vaccinated, though I have no idea what that really means or how I am going to enforce it or even if I am going to be asked to enforce it. As school gets closer to re-starting the loud voices get louder and those sadly, are the ones which are heard. Stay well and safe. Peace.

    1. Summer is my audition for retirement! Each summer, I don’t get the call back. Most of my contemporaries are retired or retiring from teaching, but I have a few years left before I hang up my chalk for good. I find that reviewing my rocks is a good thing and I am still learning and growing. You are, too. have a wonderful week. Peace.

Thanks for visiting MtDC. How are YOU Making YOUR Days Count?