I had an advanced finance professor quite a few years ago who always began the first lecture of every semester the same peculiar way. Rather large and disproportionate, he would lumber into the classroom a few minutes late carrying a large, pink duffel bag. The tacky hot-pink accessory served two purposes; first, the unusual sight would silence the room, hushed whispers of intrigued students would boil with anticipation; and second, the large bag held all of the ingredients required for his first lesson. Many a student who witnessed what came next would have their lives changed.
I know mine certainly was.
I would like to share with you the lesson I learned so long ago, and to do so, I will attempt to describe, to the best of my ability, the interaction. I believe it proceeded as such:
The Fish Tank
Professor: Good afternoon students.
Students: Good afternoon professor.
Professor: I hope everyone here is excited to learn about Finance!
Students: *Light Chuckle*
Professor: Now some of you may be wondering… *pulls a large glass fishtank out of the pink duffel bag* what this… *pointing to the tank* has to do with finance.
Students: Yes professor, we are all confused and eager to learn!
Professor: Well, humans live a fleeting existence. The universe is cold, crude and cruel. But, if we embrace our mortality, and live the good life, we can accomplish anything. Anything is possible, wouldn’t you agree?
Professor: That’s what I thought… *pulls out a bag of ping pong balls and pours them into the fish tank filling it to the brim* Is this tank full?
Students: Yes… *a bit confused*
Professor: *pulls out a bag of marbles and pours them into the tank* Is it full now?
Students: Yes! *a bit louder*
Professor: *pulls out a bag of sand and pours it into the tank* And how about now? Is the tank full now?
Students: Yes!! *a bit aggravated*
Professor: *pulls out a handle of Absolut Vodka and chugs it* And how about now??
Students: *applause and laughter* Yes professor it’s still full!
Professor: Haha, good, good. Now I want everyone here to understand what this fish tank symbolizes. This fish tank is your life. The ping pong balls are the things that are closest to you, your wife, your kids, your dog. The marbles are smaller more important things, like your job, your friends, or your car. The sand is all the little things in your life. If I had tried to fill the tank with sand or pebbles first, I wouldn’t have had room for the ping pong balls! The same is true for your personal fish tank. If your life is full of the small things, you will forget to be gracious for the ping pong balls, the important things in life. Focus on the things that are most important to you. Be grateful for your ping pong balls, and don’t count your marbles before they hatch! Prioritize prioritize prioritize, because, at the end of the day, you’re just living in a fish tank, and everything else is sand.
Student: Wait professor! What does the Absolut represent?
Professor: Haha! I’m so happy you asked. The vodka represents how I cope with the sand in my life! It just goes to show that, no matter how full your life may seem to be, there’s always room for some heavy drinking!
Students: *standing ovation and gratuitous laughter*
Gratitude was the moral of the story. Gratitude… Something you’re never tested on in an exam, something never taught in finance before, something that has been essential to my personal and professional success. Gratitude.