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Be Conscious of What the Big Rocks Are in Your Life

Posted By Julie Schirmer, Tuesday, May 07, 2013
This piece is a reprint of a post from the STFM blog, a regular blog produced by members of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (http://www.blog.stfm.org/). Reprinted with permission.

Although we should do this every day, periods of transition beckon us to examine what’s important to us as we ask ourselves, "Is this really what we want to do? Are we really living our values?” Medical students will soon move to residency programs and graduating residents will be off to their first jobs in medicine. At the recent STFM Annual Conference in early May relatively new faculty began one of the STFM fellowship programs to enhance their skills as leaders or as new behavioral science/family systems faculty.

At times like this, I am reminded of the "jar of rocks” story that I’ve come across in leadership courses and have used in teaching: A philosophy professor enters her classroom with a large, wide-mouthed glass jar and several bags of items. She asks for a student volunteer to fill the jar, who then places one to two inch rocks into the jar to the very top of the brim. The professor then asks the students if it is full. The students agree that it is full.

She asks another student to pour a bag of small pebbles up to the top of the jar. They flow between the open spaces between the rocks. She again asks the class if the jar is full. The students agree.

She then pours sand between the spaces, always finding more spaces to fill up the jar. She then states, "This jar represents your life, the large rocks represent everything that is most important to you, such as work, play, family, and love. The smaller rocks are necessary but of lesser importance. Everything else is just sand. The important thing is to be conscious of what the ‘big rocks’ are in your life. Make sure you fit them into your jar before placing anything else in, or they won’t fit. Take time to nurture, support and develop the ‘big rock’ areas, then the ‘smaller rocks’ before putting anything else in your jar.” To this original story, I have added the professor recruiting students to help her. For with helpers around, the rocks don’t seem so heavy and the process has the potential for being more fun.

I am in transition myself and wonder how I am going to fit new responsibilities into an already full life and schedule. Starting May first, I begin my journey as the new Director of the STFM Behavioral Science Family Systems Educator Fellowship (BFEF) Program, along with the 15 new educator fellows from family medicine residency programs all around the country. The fellowship is one of my "big rocks.” At this later stage in my career, it’s important to nurture and support the next generation of behavioral science faculty leaders in family medicine. It’s that "generativity” thing! I am helped by a large community of able colleagues, including STFM staff and seasoned behavioral science and family medicine educators who serve as mentors, fellowship faculty and steering committee members. This prevents me from feeling overwhelmed as to everything that I have to do for the fellowship on top of my other work and life responsibilities.

Medicine is a continually changing field, which can be exciting and overwhelming - often at the same time. Wherever you are in your life or career, take time to routinely visit and examine the ‘big rocks’ in your life and strive towards valued living. Listen to your body, mind and spirit. If you are feeling "off balance”, make sure the rocks are in their right places. Recruit colleagues and other members of your "team” to help lift the weight off your shoulders and to create a better world.

I welcome others' stories about recommendations for living the most vital and meaningful life and about maintaining balance in this fast-paced, internet-heavy world.


Julie Schirmer, LCSW is Director of Behavioral Health at the Family Medicine Department of Maine Medical Center and Assistant Director of the Family Medicine Clerkship at Tufts/Maine Medical Center School of Medicine. She is Co-chair of the North East Regional Integrated Care Learning Community, Past President of the Family Medicine Education Consortium, and Director of the Behavioral Science/Family Systems Educator Fellowship of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. She is author and co-editor of Behavioral Health in Primary Care: A Global Perspective (Radcliffe, 2010).

Tags:  self-care 

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Teresa Rogers says...
Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013
I really enjoyed your rock metaphor. I think this can be useful in many settings. Utilizing this activity/metaphor with clients, students and/or patients could be very helpful, enlightening and powerful. Identification and placement of the "big rocks" could enable the client/student/paitent to feel more masterful over their situations.
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