‘How will you measure your life?’

By Clayton M Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon

For the past 12 years I have been facilitating leadership development programs that have endeavoured to help delegates grow their understanding of who they are, their life purpose and how this might reflect on their ideal approach to leadership. I have battled to find the ideal readings to compliment our program and have used a variety of articles.  ‘How will you measure your life’ goes a long to solving my dilemma. It is a wonderful book, it’s challenging but is filled with wisdom, insights and street smarts. I hope this brief précis does it the justice it deserves. Preferably, buy the book and read it for yourself.

Pete Laburn – July 2014

Going through school and university and throughout your career, much emphasis is placed on equipping you with knowledge and skills for success in the workplace. While these are important aspects of training, school, university and your career do not really equip you with what you need for success in life. In response to this, Christensen, Allworth and Dillon’s book focuses on theories about how you can be sure that:

  • You will be successful and happy in your career.
  • Your relationships with your spouse, children, extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness.
  • You live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail.

The book discusses how you can go about developing a life strategy in order to achieve these three points. As with any business, a strategy develops from an understanding of your priorities.

Finding happiness in your career

Priorities and what makes you happy

Priorities are your core decision-making criteria – what is most important to you and in your career. The challenge comes in when what you think matters most in your job is often not aligned with what will really make you happy.

Sometimes you do not even realize and understand what motivates you and what will really make you happy. Some years ago Frederick Herzberg published an article in the Harvard Business Review identifying two different factors that influence how we feel about our work. Hygiene factors are things like status, compensation, job security, work conditions, company policy and supervisory practices. Bad hygiene factors can cause job dissatisfaction, however, these factors are not the main career motivators. Improving hygiene factors does not guarantee an improvement in job satisfaction, but just the prevention of job dissatisfaction.

In order to achieve true job satisfaction you need to look at what Herzberg describes as motivators. Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth. Feeling that you are making a meaningful contribution in your work. Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation and much more about what’s inside of you and inside of your work.

A problem arises when money is prioritised over all else in your quest for work satisfaction. In today’s society it is frightfully easy for you to lose your sense of the difference between what brings money and what brings happiness. Money is only a hygiene factor that cannot bring about true job satisfaction. Realising this will free you up to focus on the things that really matter. In order to really find happiness in your work, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.

The balance between planning and the unexpected

In your pursuit of career satisfaction you will need to understand and manage the balance between the pursuit of your aspirations and goals, with taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. Learning to manage this balance can make the difference between success and failure in your life.

In your life and in your career you are constantly navigating a path by deciding between deliberate strategies and unanticipated alternatives that emerge. Your life strategy is being developed through this process of constant everyday choices. If you have found what you love to do, with the right hygiene factors, then you are likely to find happiness. But on your path to get there you will need to let your strategy be somewhat emergent and experiment with life a bit. As you learn from each experience that you face, you will be able to adjust your strategy and keep going through the process until your strategy begins to take shape. As you go through your career, you will begin to find the areas of work that you love and in which you shine. A good life strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities. 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 what really works for you, then it is time to flip from an emergent strategy to a more deliberate one.

Executing your strategy by allocating your resources

No strategy for life, will ever be executed if you do not allocate resources to it. Your best intentions will amount to nothing unless you spend your time, money and talent in a way that is consistent with your intentions for your life. Real strategy, in both companies and in your life, is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about where you spend your resources. As you are living your life day to day, how do you make sure you are heading in the right direction? Watch where your resources flow. If they are not supporting the life strategy that you have decided on, then you are not implementing that strategy at all.

In our lives, we have resources which include personal time, energy, talent and wealth, and we are using them to try to grow our personal lives, including a rewarding relationship with our spouse, raising great children, succeeding in our careers and contributing to our church or community. Unfortunately, our resources are limited and these areas of our lives are competing for them. Unless you mindfully manage your personal resource allocation process, it will happen by default and you will land up not investing in the areas that you want to.

An additional danger for high-achieving individuals is that you unconsciously will allocate your resources to activities that provide the most immediate and tangible results – usually your work and career, at the expense of other important parts of your life such as relationships with family and friends. Prioritising your work will usually lead to immediate returns such as a promotion, a raise or a bonus as opposed to things that require long-term work and don’t pay returns for decades, such as raising good children. This is the sobering pattern for many ambitious people. Although your family may be deeply important to you, you may start to allocate fewer and fewer resources to the things that you say matter the most. Most people do not set out to do this, however, the small decisions that you make each day add up to having a larger impact. As you continue to do this, you are, in fact, implementing a different strategy to the one that you intended.

Think about what matters most to you, and now think about all the choices you have made this week. Does your resource allocation match up to what matters most to you? 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 will never become that person.

Finding Happiness in your relationships

Intimate, loving and enduring relationships with your family and close friends will be among the sources of the deepest joy in your life. They are worth fighting for. It is important that you learn how you can nourish these relationships and avoid damaging them, as you continue upon your life’s journey.

The time to invest is now

Sometimes when it seems like everything at home is going well, you can be lulled into believing that you can put your investment in these relationships onto the back burner. However, this is an enormous mistake. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it is often too late to repair them. This means that the best time to invest in building strong family and close friendships is when it appears as if it is not necessary.

You need to understand that strong close relationships are like any important investment and require consistent attention and care. But there are two forces that will be constantly working against this happening. First you will be routinely tempted to invest your resources elsewhere, in things that will provide you with a more immediate payoff. And secondly, your family and friends will rarely shout the loudest to demand your attention. They love you and want to support your career. You need to understand that just like other investment, the clock of building a fulfilling relationship is ticking from the start. If you don’t nurture and develop those relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself in the more challenging stretches of your life.

Find out what your spouse needs from you and do it

While it is natural to want the people you love to be happy, what is often not so natural is knowing your role in making them happy. You might naturally want to do the things for your spouse that you think he/she would want from you, and what you think will make them happy. However, this does not always lead to a happy marriage. Rather you will need intuition and empathy in order to put yourself in their shoes in order to really see what they want from you and what you can do to make them happy.

Once you have found out what will make your spouse happy, you now need to go about doing those things. You have to devote your time and energy to the effort, being willing to suppress your own priorities and desires to focus on doing what is required to make the other person happy. This might sound very selfless, and it is, but you will find that the path to your own happiness includes finding someone who you want to make happy and whose happiness you are committed to devoting yourself to. You will find that what cements your love relationships is the extent to which you will sacrifice yourself to help your partner succeed and see them happy.

Knowing this secret, you should not be timid in giving your children and spouse the same opportunities to give themselves to you and others. In sacrificing for something worthwhile your family will deeply strengthen their commitment to each other and create fulfilling, happy families and marriages.

Don’t outsource the future

As a parent, you have your child’s best interests at heart and want to provide them with all the opportunities and resources that they will need in order to succeed in life. These may include financial and material resources, time and energy, knowledge and talents, relationships and past experiences. So we take them to extra lessons, extra murals and private tutoring to develop the skills we believe will equip them for success. However, success in life is not just a result of having enough resources, it is also about knowing what to do with these resources in order to solve problems and create new things – these are called processes. This may include the way your child thinks, how he asks questions, whether he can solve problems and how he works with others. Most of these processes cannot be taught but need to be learned through experience. There is another crucial aspect to success in life – your child’s priorities. This is the set of internal values that he/she will use in order to make life decisions.

Outsourcing your children to all manner of ‘experts’ all day might be developing your child’s resources, but it is not developing essential processes and priorities that will be key to their success in life. As you cart your children around to an endless array of activities you need to ask yourself if they are developing from these experiences the deep, important processes such as teamwork, entrepreneurship and the value of preparation or are they just going along for the ride. Has your child developed the skill to develop better skills; the knowledge to develop deeper knowledge; and the experience to learn from his experiences?

If these processes are not developed at outsourced skills training, then where are they developed? They are developed by being given the opportunity to shoulder onerous responsibility and solve complicated problems for themselves and for others. This is also how true self-esteem is developed. By giving your child the opportunity to confront a problem and to solve it themselves you are helping to build self-esteem in your child. And helping them to not be afraid when they confront another problem in the future, because they know that they can do it.

This does not mean that you should throw your children straight into the deep end to see whether they can swim. But rather to start early to find simple problems for them to solve on their own, problems that can help them build their processes and a healthy self-esteem.

If that is how processes are developed, how are family values and priorities instilled? They are not usually developed, as you might think, in a formal manor when the family all sits down together to talk about family values. Instead, children usually pick them up during every day teachable moments when you are together. The key to the transfer of family values and priorities is being together. If you are not with your child when they are ready to learn, you will have wasted the opportunities to transfer values and priorities to your children. If you find yourself heading down a path of outsourcing more and more of your role as a parent you will lose more and more of the precious opportunities to help your kids develop their values – which may be the most important capability of all.

Don’t focus on developing a CV, focus on gaining the right experience

The natural tendency of many parents is to focus entirely on building your child’s CV with good grades, sport successes and so on. What you are missing here is that each challenge that your child faces serves an important purpose in their life, and will help them hone and develop the capabilities necessary to succeed in life.

Helping your child learn how to do difficult things is one of the most important roles of a parent. It will be critical to equipping them for all the challenges that life will throw at them. Leaders are not born, but their abilities are developed and shaped by life experiences. As a parent, you should help your child to have these life experiences that will develop their capabilities.

Ask yourself, what are all the experiences and problems that my child will need to learn and master so that they become the person they want to be. Consciously think about what abilities you want your child to develop and then what experiences will help them get them. You might have to engineer opportunities for your child to have the experiences you believe will help them develop the capabilities he needs for life. While this will not be easy – it will be worthwhile. This will be one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children.

Being intentional about developing your family culture

Most of us have an idyllic image of what we want our families to be like. The children will be well-behaved, they will adore and respect you and everyone will enjoy spending time together and your children will make you proud when they are off in the world without you. Unfortunately, any parent will tell you that the image and the reality are often two different things. One of the most powerful tools to enable you to close the gap between the family you want and the family you have is culture.

In business, a company culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that the members don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture is formed people will automatically do what they need to do to be successful. It is the same in a family. A family culture is a set of values or priorities set by the parents so that family members will solve problems and confront dilemmas instinctively. Children will not need to ask mom or dad what to do because they already know ‘this is how our family behaves.’

Your family culture can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently. If you want your family to have a culture with a clear set of values and priorities for everyone to follow, then those priorities need to be proactively designed into the culture. What will your family value: Is it creativity? Hard work? Entrepreneurship? Generosity? Humility?

Once you and your spouse have set your family values and priorities, these values need to be instilled in your family through prioritising them together over and over until there is a mutual understanding of what things are important to us, how we solve problems and what really matters in our family. As you work together to solve challenges repeatedly, norms and standards will begin to form.

If you do not consciously build the culture you want to develop in your family, a culture will still form, but it may not be one you like. Allowing your children to get away with lazy or disrespectful behavior a few times will begin the process of making it your family’s culture. Although it is difficult in the beginning to be consistent in instilling the culture you want, once your culture is set it is almost impossible to change for the good or the bad.

Living a life of Integrity

Most of us think that the important ethical decisions in our lives will come with a blinking red neon sign that says: ‘Caution – Important Decision Ahead.’ Almost everyone is confident that in those moments of truth, we will do the right thing. The problem is that life seldom works that way. It comes with no warning signs. Instead, most of us face a series of small, everyday decisions that rarely seem like they have high stakes attached. But over time they play out far more dramatically.

In our lives, the cost of doing something bad just this once, always seems negligible, however, it usually ends up that the cost is much higher than it seems at the time. You might sometimes think that as a general rule most people should not do some bad thing, but that in this particular circumstance, just this once, it is ok for you to do it. This train of thought suckers you in and you don’t see where that path is ultimately headed or the full cost that that choice entails – which is departing from a path of integrity – and all the consequences that could go with it. Each of these seemingly small decisions can roll into a bigger picture – turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.

The answer is to never give in to the ‘just this once’ kind of thinking. By sticking to your principles 100% of the time you always keep your personal moral line in place and never cross over it. However, if you only hold to the line 98% of the time, there is nothing to stop you from stepping over it again. Decide what you stand for and then stand for it all of the time. The only way to avoid the consequences of uncomfortable moral concessions in your life is to never start making them in the first place. When the first step down the path presents itself, turn around and walk the other way.

The importance of having a life purpose

In order to maximise the value of the advice in Christensen, Allworth and Dillon’s book, you need to have a purpose for your life. Anyone who has led a movement for change or done anything great in the world had an extraordinarily clear sense of their purpose. But purpose rarely emerges by chance, and neither will yours. The type of person you want to become and the purpose for your life is too important to leave to chance. It needs to be deliberately conceived, chosen, managed and then pursued. Once you have your purpose in place, the opportunities and challenges in your life that allow you to become that person will inevitably be emergent.

There are three main parts to a purpose. The first is the likeness, which refers to what you want to become. Drawing from your personal values and faith, as well as your talents and gifting’s, deciding what kind of person you want to become. The likeness you draw will only have value to you if you create it for yourself.

The second aspect of a purpose is to have a deep commitment to the likeness that you are trying to create. It is this commitment that will guide you as you prioritise on a daily basis and drive what you do and what you will not do. Becoming truly committed to becoming the type of person you want to be can be very difficult. But as you get confirmation that the likeness you have created is correct, then you must devote your life to becoming that person. Spending time meditating on who you want to be and your likeness statement will help it to drop down into your heart and soul and for it to become real to you as you apply this likeness to your decision making process every day.

The third part of a purpose is to find the unit of measure that you will use to measure your life. While most people measure their lives according to how many people they presided over at work, the number of awards they have received, or the amount of money they have made. You need to decide how you will measure your life. When your life is over, the metrics that will matter the most in measuring your life will be how many people you helped, and how many lives did you touch for good. Your sense of happiness and worth will be immeasurable improved when you realise the true metrics to measure your life.

As you go through life, your knowledge of your life’s purpose will prove to be critical, and something that you will look back on as the most important thing you have ever learning. And without it, you will not be able to put the important things first.

Pete Laburn

July 2014