06 Feb 2021
In How Will You Measure Your Life, Clayton Christensen begins by observing how despite tremendous professional accomplishments, many of his peers were clearly unhappy in life. Their unhappiness included personal dissatisfaction, family failure, professional struggles, and even criminal behavior. And yet each of them had started out as good people who somehow let forces and decisions derail them along the way.
Knowing that we are all vulnerable to these forces, he set forth to apply business theory (statements of what causes things to happen–and why) to the individual. Instead of using businesses as the case studies, he suggests we use ourselves. In doing so, Christensen provides frameworks for each of us to answer:
How Can I Be Sure That:
I will be successful and happy in my career?
My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?
I live a life of integrity—and stay out of jail?
He notes that while these are simple questions, answering them is very hard work and part of a continuous, ongoing journey through life. He hopes that at the end of that journey, the theories in his book will help you definitively answer the question: “How will you measure your life”?
The book is fairly short and very worth reading in full. Doing so provided me with the time to really internalize the material and to start actually applying it to my own life.
At the same time, I find myself wanting a distilled version that I can reference from time to time, in order to correct my own course as I chart it through the “seas of life”. If I had to compress the entire book down into a recipe, it would be:
But there is so much good stuff behind each of these, that I think a more detailed outline of notes is the sweet spot for a proper reference manual. Here it is.
The Power of Theory
People often think that the best way to predict the future is by collecting as much data as possible before making a decision. But this is like driving a car looking only at the rearview mirror—because data is only available about the past. Indeed, while experiences and information can be good teachers, there are many times in life where we simply cannot afford to learn on the job. You don’t want to have to go through multiple marriages to learn how to be a good spouse. Or wait until your last child has grown to master parenthood. This is why theory can be so valuable: it can explain what will happen, even before you experience it.
Part I: Finding Happiness in Your Career
The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. – Steve Jobs
Three things build our strategy: priorities, balancing plans with opportunities, and allocating our resources.
What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it’s time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.
How do you make sure that you’re implementing the strategy you truly want to implement? Watch where your resources flow—the resource allocation process. If it is not supporting the strategy you’ve decided upon, you run the risk of a serious problem. You might think you are a charitable person, but how often do you really give your time or money to a cause or an organization that you care about? If your family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you’ve made with your time in a week, does your family seem to come out on top? Because if the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.
Part 2: Finding Happiness in Your Relationships
There is much more to life than your career.
Work can bring you a sense of fulfillment–but it pales in comparison to the enduring happiness you can find in the intimate relationships that you cultivate with your family and close friends.
They are worth fighting for.
The path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.
Part 3: Staying Out of Jail
But looking back on it, I realize that resisting the temptation of “in this one extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s ok” has proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? Because life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances.
Finding Your Life’s Purpose
The only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people. When I have my final interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage–a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had. These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life.
If you take the time to figure out your purpose in life, you’ll look back on it as the most important thing you have ever learned.
This helped me formalize the idea that people will leave a job if it doesn’t offer them sufficient compensation, but they won’t stay (and be happy) just because it does. ↩
This succinctly articulates the deep personal gratification I have found in managing. ↩