06 Feb 2021

How Will You Measure Your Life?

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:

  1. Figure out the things that actually make you happy
  2. Be open to unexpected opportunities until you land on a career that lets you realize those things
  3. Always monitor where your time and energy is going, to ensure what you’re actually doing is what you intend to do
  4. Always be investing in your relationships
  5. Clearly establish your personal moral code and never make exceptions to it

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

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

Part 2: Finding Happiness in Your Relationships

Part 3: Staying Out of Jail

Finding Your Life’s Purpose

  1. 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. 

  2. Sam Altman calls this the Deferred Life Plan. It just doesn’t work. 

  3. This succinctly articulates the deep personal gratification I have found in managing. 

  4. It’s neat how cleanly this ties into Herminia Ibarra’s Working Identity