This is an account of day 20 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 20 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to create a pebble jar. Part of the inspiration for this task is the four-foot tower NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins keeps at the front of his house, which was originally filled with 720 rocks, one for each month if he lives to be 90 years old. With each passing month he removes one rock as a reminder that time is passing and that he should make the most of the time he has left.
Today’s challenge has two parts, which are explained in the instructional email from the Daily Stoic.
Today’s challenge comes with two parts. Part 1 is to create your jar of how much time you have left. Of course, we have no idea exactly how long we will live, how many pebbles to put in our jar. But many of us have some idea of how long we might WISH to live. We have an idea of the things we hope to accomplish in our time here and that we’ll need ___ years to do it. Now fill the jar with what that wish amounts to. If you can’t track down a four foot glass tower and 700 rocks, adjust appropriately. Any sort of clear jar and any increment of time (one rock for every year) will suffice. The exercise—keeping the jar where we can see it every day and knowing what it represents—is to remind us of what’s at stake. It’s so you can see with your own eyes just how little that number actually amounts to. It’s to stare at you and remind you that time you have is not all that much by any conceivable measure
Now that we have a physical reminder of our mortality and the number of days or weeks or months we have left, Part 2 is about deciding how you are going to spend those days.
There’s a story of unknown origins of a philosophy professor who once stood before his students with a large empty jar. He filled the jar with large rocks then asked the students if the jar was full. “Yes,” the students unanimously agreed. The professor then added some small pebbles, shook the jar, so the pebbles would slip and slide there way between the large rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. The students again said that yes the jar was now full. The professor then poured sand into the jar, filling up any empty space that remained and asked once more if the jar was full. He explained that the jar represents one’s life.
The rocks symbolize the most important things in your life—family, health, relationships. If your jar were reduced to just the rocks, your life would still be full and have meaning even without the pebbles and the sand. The pebbles represent the other things that matter in your life—career aspirations, hobbies, travel—but are less essential to living a good life. And finally, the sand represents everything else—errands, netflix, social media.
You have your jar of rocks. Add your pebbles and sand. Then comes the real work. Take the time, get out a pen and a journal, and spend some real time deciding what you want your rocks, pebbles, and sand to represent. What are the most important parts of your life? What should you be prioritizing?
If we were being honest with ourselves and looking at a typical day, how many of us would have jars filled with more pebbles and sand than rocks? How many of us would have days where there would be no rocks or pebbles in the jar? It would just be sand, like an hourglass waiting to be turned over and drained to the bottom.
In the challenge’s group Slack channel, there were a lot of great ideas on what to use for today’s task if pebbles aren’t available. Fellow participant Jay (who has also blogged about the challenge) went for poker chips:
5 years. 60 poker chips—one chip for each month.I’m all in…Yes, a corny little pun but I need to remember to embrace a healthy balance of seriousness and humor in all that I do.Also—I know it’s tough to see but I wrote “5 Years” on the jar.
I liked this idea a lot so I did the same:
The narrower time frame of five years hopefully creates a greater sense of urgency, and prompts short term action, as opposed to having 700 pebbles like Kirk Cousins and potentially feeling like there is plenty of time to procrastinate in life.
Memento Mori (which translates as “remember that you will die”) is the medieval Latin theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It’s a constant reminder not to take your time on earth for granted and not to worry about things beyond your control.
Exercises like today’s, which keep the memento mori theme at the forefront of the mind, really help to cement a change in perspective, allowing us to see that our time is limited and we should make the most of it while we can.