“How Will You Measure Your Life?” + Some Observations

August 1, 2010 11:24 am Published by

Sometimes someone writes an article, or gives a speech, that is noteworthy. Their thoughtfulness and manner of communication is remarkable. And you really can’t add much to what they have already said. But you want to share their thoughts with those important to you.

Such is the nature of the article, based on his commencement speech to the 2010 graduating class at the Harvard Business School, by Clayton Christensen. He is a professor at the school and was asked by the class to speak at their graduation ceremony.

I will briefly highlight some of his points — primarily to entice you to read the whole article, which can be found at this link.

Dr Christensen states that: “On the last day of class, I ask my students … to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?” [He goes on to report that two of his Rhodes scholar program classmates wound up spending time in jail.’

With regards to the career question, he states: “More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people. I want students to leave my classroom knowing that.”

Regarding the second question, Christensen reports: “Over the years I’ve watched the fates of my HBS [Harvard Business School] classmates from 1979 unfold; I’ve seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.”

He goes on to say: “Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy. I have a bunch of ‘businesses’ that compete for these resources: I’m trying to have a rewarding relationship with my wife, raise great kids, contribute to my community, succeed in my career, contribute to my church, and so on. And I have exactly the same problem that a corporation does. I have a limited amount of time and energy and talent. How much do I devote to each of these pursuits?”

Finally, regarding “staying out of jail”, he frames it as “how to live a life of integrity (stay out of jail). Unconsciously, we often employ the marginal cost doctrine in our personal lives when we choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, ‘Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.’ the marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails.”

I will let you read the rest of the article yourself so you can gain the full impact of his points.

Let me briefly add some supporting comments of my own.

Since I have the opportunity to work with business owners and financially successful individuals and families across the country, I am able to observe some repetitive patterns in families and relationships.

The most glaring theme is that there seem to be three types of individuals who are successful in business (or their chosen career):

1) those who are extremely successful largely due to a high level of commitment, drive and who have sacrificed most of the rest of their lives (physical health, family relationships, friendships, personal ethics) to achieve their goals;

2) those who have been able to maintain a sense of balance in their lives along the way due to a clear commitment to priorities in their lives; and

3) those who are somewhere in between, desiring to be balanced but often find themselves out of balance in their use of time and energy.

Members of Group 1 are often wealthy, sometimes famous, still “driving” toward career (or other) goals. They are largely unhappy, self-focused and highly insecure. My observation is that they usually are not very enjoyable to be around — they often have anger issues.

Group 2 members are usually amazing people, who are a delight to be around. They are humble, realizing that their success is probably a combination of perseverance and being in the right place at the right time. They are guided by a strong set of personal values. They have a giving approach to life and much can be learned from them.

Most of us (I think) are in Group 3. We have good intentions. We generally are going on the right path, but often need to make corrections along the way — with work/career or other pursuits getting out of balance. We need mentors, reminders and good friends to give us honest input and feedback.

Which group are you in? Where do you want to be? How can you get there?

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August 1, 2010 11:24 am

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