The largest stones

By Paulo Coelho

The teacher placed a large glass jar on the table.
Then out of a bag he took ten stones, each the size of an orange, and began placing them, one by one, in the jar.
When the jar was filled to the brim with stones, he asked his students:
‘Is it full?’
They all agreed that it was. The teacher, however, took some gravel from another bag and by jiggling the large stones around inside the jar, managed to fit in quite a lot of gravel.
‘Is it full now?’
The students said, yes, this time it was definitely full. At that point, the teacher opened a third bag, this time full of fine sand, and he began to pour it into the jar. The sand filled up any empty spaces between the large stones and the gravel, right up to the top.
‘Right,’ said the teacher. ‘Now the jar is full. What do you think I’ve been trying to demonstrate to you?’
‘That it doesn’t matter how busy you are, there’s always room to fit in something else,’ said one student.
‘Not at all. What this little demonstration shows us is that we have to put the large stones in first because, afterwards, they won’t fit.
Now what are the important things in our lives? What are the plans we postpone, the adventures we never have, the loves we fail to fight for? Ask which are the large, solid stones that keep God’s flame alive in you and put them into your jar of decisions now, because very soon there will be no room for them.’

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  1. mcl says:

    Dear Paulo,
    I really like the comment made by Myzpax regarding the Karaoke and as I am re-reading it, I am having a bit of a laugh thinking about the Sesame Street program I used to watch with my children. I think I was having as much fun as them. That was so brilliant.
    The first thing that happens when I wake up also, I start singing- I don't know where this is coming from – songs I have not heard for many years sometimes they just pop out , out of the blue -
    Anyway, I think this is an excellent educational tool to be looking at.
    Paulo, I know I must sound like a broken record, I am really interested in that area .
    Can we talk about that please?
    I will be in Paris in June for two days and I want to know whether I can see you and what is the procedure?
    Thank you.

  2. mcl says:

    I like what you say about Kareoke, it is so much fun as well and certainly a good idea for singing and learning and doing the breathing excercises as well
    Also the Kareoke exercise gives you self-confidence. You are performing and enjoying yourself as well.
    Learning a new language, by listening over and over you grasp words, I do that here on this site when I read another language. I go over and over, sometimes I also say it loud and it is magic because you get a different sound and suddenly the word you could not understand appears.
    Thanks for that.

  3. Carolena says:

    Very nice story Mr. Coelho.
    It is indeed very necessary to put in the large stones first… but not always easy. When trapped in the hustle and bustle of life, the big stones get buried under the gravel and the sand and we often don't see their presence. Eventually, through a turn of events, different for everyone, the big stones surface and then we can pick them up and put them in the jar.
    Thank you for this wonderful story!
    Love always

  4. Nancy says:

    Two stories in a row has gotten me to think again about what I am doing in my life. It’s strange how it takes someone I don’t even know to do that.

  5. Josephine (Swe) says:

    you forgot the coffee! in the end he also pours a cop of coffee in the jar to show that after all important things (big stones) and unimportant things (sand) – there is always time for a cup of coffee with a friend!


  6. Sun says:

    What’s the matter Mary Jane, you had a hard day
    As you place the don’t disturb sign on the door
    You lost your place in line again, what a pity
    You never seem to want to dance anymore
    It’s a long way down
    On this roller coaster
    The last chance streetcar
    Went off the track
    And you’re on it.
    I hear you’re counting sheep again Mary Jane
    What’s the point of trying to dream anymore
    I hear you’re losing weight again Mary Jane
    Do you ever wonder who you’re losing it for
    Well it’s full speed baby
    In the wrong direction
    There’s a few more bruises
    If that’s the way
    You insist on heading
    Please be honest Mary Jane
    Are you happy
    Please don’t censor your tears
    You’re the sweet crusader
    And you’re on your way
    You’re the last great innocent
    And that’s why I love you
    So take this moment Mary Jane and be selfish
    Worry not about the cars that go by
    All that matters Mary Jane is your freedom
    Keep warm my dear, keep dry
    Tell me
    Tell me
    What’s the matter Mary Jane

    My freedom.

    This has felt like 3 yrs in a cage kid. We’ll meet again sometime, somewhere.



  7. Beautiful and truly storie. Sometimes we haves big and small problems, so we try to end with small ones and left the big ones for after. When you see it’s bigger than before and we don’t know how to end it.
    That this storie help us to now how to do the things in our lifes.

  8. Myzpax says:

    Dear Paulo and all the people who read this blog

    I’ve come here several times raising some issues that do concern me. As always God never faces us with a question without giving a possible answer and again, based on my personal experience and intuition He has inspired me with one.

    A couple of years ago I watched a movie called Fahrenheit 451. It was a tale about the future, where people were forbidden to read, and actually there were men whose work was to find and destroy books. At a certain point in the movie there is this impressive scene of a woman in her fifties whose enormous personal library had been found by the “book fighters”. They started throwing all the books from the addict down to the first floor and when they were ready to set all the books on fire the woman walks on to the pile of books. The man told her to move away. She said no, the books were her friends they talked to her, and if they were going to be burnt, she wanted to be burn with them.

    Reading does widen horizons. “To read is to grow” so do the Noddy’s books I read to my nephews say so. Reading is a most invaluable tool, but one that takes time and a lot of effort to acquire with the traditional methods, used so far. I believe the answer lies within finding new methods.

    I always loved music. When I was growing up I’d memorize the lyrics of my favorite songs from the Top 40 and the words I didn’t know, I’d look them up in the dictionary. Memorizing and singing lyrics helped me develop the English I learned in school and helped me untangle my tongue when speaking it.. Then I started studying singing. That was my favorite class ever. I could come to it feeling tired but I’d always leave in a good mood. That happens because to sing properly, you have to fill your lungs with oxygen all the way down to your diaphragm, and as a consequence your body and brain get plenty of it. So singing does two things at the same time, helps you think faster and is a natural self-esteem booster. I believe that learning would improve, if there was a way for students to learn how to read while singing. I think there is. It’s called Karaoke. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, you sing to a music while looking in a screen that moves the lyrics word by word by word… You can start by hearing the lyrics along with the music and with slow paced songs and then move to faster ones later. Further more, Sesame Street and other shows have songs about various subjects. If they were put into CD’s they could be used as learning tools. Adriana Calcanhoto, a Brazilian singer put up a beautiful quite instructive children’s show with songs about animals, famous people, called Partimpim, to give you an idea of what is possible to do .

    But learning to read isn’t the only way it’s possible to put Karaoke to a very practical usage. A few years ago I read that if you studied the songs from the Beatles you could learn to speak English. My personal experience tells me it is so and since I heard that Bob Dylan’s name had been suggested for a Literature Nobel Prize I was even more convinced about it. We can add more names like U2, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald etc. Learning Portuguese with Rui Veloso, Chico Buarque, Xutos e Pontapés, Gilberto Gil, Amália Rodrigues etc. Learning French with Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf etc. Learning Italian with famous opera songs like “La donna é mobile”. There’s so much to choose from.

    As a curiosity the word music derives from the Greek root muse. Mythology tells us that the nine muses, celestial sisters presiding over song, poetry, and the arts and sciences, were born of Zeus, the King of the Gods, and Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory…

    From a different fields, movies with subtitles, and books with the original language on one page and a translation on the adjacent page could also be used as a learning tool for languages. And specific subject trivia question games could also be developed and used.

    These are all tricks I have used myself when studying, so that’s why I believe they can be effective. I don’t have any scientific studies to base my theories So if the people reading this believe that to, pass on the idea and if you can afford it give your kid a karaoke device. It doesn’t hurt trying. I firmly believe that improving the level of education is, if not the only way, it is the best way, to improve the conditions of life for people on earth. The richest person can loose all his money but nobody can take away from you what you’ve learned.

    May the Love of God surround us all


    1. marie-christine says:

      “the richest person can loose all his money but nobody can take away from you what you’ve learned.” … well said MyzPax – Freedom –
      Thank you !

  9. Rozana says:


    Tell me, if I would catch you someday
    and kiss your sole,
    isn’t it that you would halt a little, afterwards,
    being afraid not to bruise my kiss?”


    Spune-mi, dacă te-aş prinde-ntr-o zi
    şi ţi-aş săruta talpa piciorului,
    nu-i aşa că ai şchiopăta puţin, după aceea,
    de teamă să nu-mi striveÅŸti sărutul ?”

    Nichita Stanescu (a great romanian poet)

  10. Maris says:

    Yes! The same way as in Project Management, we should solve the major problems first before the little ones. Most often, little problems emerges because of the major problem. And so, when we solve the major problem, little problems will be eventually solved. When we apply this principle, the jar full of stone, gravel, and sand mentioned by Mr. Coelho above can still fit a cup of powdered coffe. This only means, we can still enjoy a sip of coffee with a friend amidst of our busyness in our work and life.

  11. Marianna Papanti says:

    It is 2 o’clock in morning, I am sitting in my small apartment somewhere in Greece and I am reading this beautiful story. It reminded me of the times I just want to stop right there in the classroom (I am an english teacher) and try to talk and understand why children carry so much anger in them today…

    Maybe it is what the story says. We all try to fit in so many things in our lives and in the end we end up missing everything. My great grandmother (95years old) says one can not hold two watermelons with one hand!
    Maybe that unger I see in my students today comes from the same source…maybe we know we ought to stop and think about our lives but we keep saying to ourselves…”ok, I’ll do it in a minute”.
    But one such minute may do the difference…let alone eleven (minutes). Thank you Paolo Coelho. Your message inspired me. Maybe my class will not be the same tomorrow after that!

    Marianna P.

    P.S I read The Witch of Portobello a few months back. I loved every page but ‘eleven minutes’ is still my favourite!

  12. Quennie says:

    Very well said.xoxo