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Dumping Out The Bucket

Updated: Jan 11

Many years ago I attended an inspirational presentation where the speaker used a powerful visual to highlight his message. He filled a large bucket up with rocks to the brim, and asked the audience if it was full. When we said it was, he proceeded to pull out a bag of sand. He poured it into the bucket, filling in the spaces between the rocks. He asked us again if the bucket was full. When we answered that now it definitely was, he walked over and filled a pitcher with water. As you can guess, he added the water to the bucket, and it soaked into the nooks and crannies of the sand and rocks. He then pronounced the bucket to be finally full. I have seen this presentation repeated a few times since, but at various times in my life it has taught me very different lessons.

 In my 20’s  and early 30’s I viewed it as a demonstration of the power of multi-tasking and hard work. Those were the building years. Everything was about growing, changing and achieving. I was having babies, getting a degree, remodeling homes, creating a nest egg and wearing myself out generally speaking. It was tiring, but also fun and exciting. I wanted to push myself to my limits so I would know where they were. The rocks, sand and water were proof that if I moved fast and efficiently enough, there was always a little bit more I could fit into my day, and my life. No excuses! Go go go! Not quite full yet.

By my late 30’s and 40’s, however, I was feeling the affects of this. I was a multitasking genius by this time, indeed, but I was beginning to realize that doing too many things at once made it awfully hard to do any of them very well. I was managing a household, carpooling 9 kids for hours daily, managing my rental properties, keeping up with a busy career, serving in the community and taking care of everyone except myself. Somewhere along the line I had stopped having any personal hobbies or quiet time. Exercise? Sleep and eat right?? Nope. There simply wasn’t time. I was like a juggler scrambling to keep from dropping the ball. I managed fairly well overall, but the stress was a heavy load to carry. Burnout was looming on the horizon when I saw the rocks, sand and water illustration again. This time I gleaned a totally different message from it. This time I clearly saw that while it was possible to fit all three elements into the bucket, it only worked if you put the larger rocks in first. If you reversed the order, the rocks would never fit. I realized that I was trying to put my “big rocks” of self care, spirituality and relationship growth in AFTER dealing the small “sand and water” stuff. The daily details of life always feel so urgent and pressing. The errands, meetings and demands never seem to end. Looking back now though, I wish I would’ve understood sooner, that many of life’s most important events and activities never seem to make it onto the calendar. If you aren’t careful you can miss them altogether. I did make some worthwhile changes, and I was doing all good things mind you...just not always with the right emphasis.      

I will be 50 in a couple of months. Today I was pondering again on the bucket stuffed full of rocks, sand and water. All I could think of now was how heavy that darn bucket is. It would feel so freeing to just dump it out wouldn’t it? Ok maybe not entirely - there is some great stuff in there I wouldn't want to lose. I still have a full house of people I love, and clients that deserve my time and attention. Those rocks will stay. But age and life experience are teaching me that so much of the other weight I’ve been dragging around just isn’t necessary. So it may be time for a day at the beach. Time to kick off my shoes, pour out about half of the rocks, sand and water, and let the waves take them away. Maybe find some pretty new shells to put back in? But only if I truly love them and they bring me joy. I won’t fill the bucket all the way back up to the top though. I want to leave some space for peace. Reading and travel. Walks in nature. Long talks with friends and family. Listening to the rain on the roof while drinking chamomile tea. Even space for doing absolutely nothing sometimes. Time to just be myself. Ahhhh...letting go feels awfully good. 

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