Each term, on the last day of his management class, Harvard strategy professor Clayton M. Christensen had the habit of asking his students to apply the principles of management business to their personal lives.
“Don’t reserve your best business thinking for your career,” he would push them to ask the difficult questions and pursue purpose and meaning in their careers and their personal lives.
Toward the end of his life, after suffering a stroke and contracting cancer, Christensen published a Harvard Business Review article, which he expanded as How Will You Measure Your Life (2012.) This New York Times bestseller struck a chord with many business leaders, especially in favor of Christensen’s reflections on pursuing fulfillment.
Lesson #1: Don’t over-invest in work or under-invest in relationships.
Christensen talks about various motivators at work and encourages you to think about how you want to be remembered. He argues that ultimately your most significant sources of joy in life will be your family and your close friends. Devote time to these relationships, and they’ll enrich your life:
The relationships you have with family and close friends are going to be the most important sources of happiness in your life. But you have to be careful. When it seems like everything at home is going well, you will be lulled into believing that you can put your investments in these relationships on the back burner. That would be an enormous mistake. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it often is too late to repair them.
Lesson #2: Don’t lose track of the essential things. Allocate resources appropriately.
Christensen recalls some of his business school classmates entered the school with a noble cause—many of them wanted to change the world. But when they graduated with student debt, they took jobs for money to pay off their debts. And that was just going to be a temporary thing. But, over time, they got caught up in their careers, making money and chasing possessions. Their original pursuit of the noble cause petered out and, along the way, they lost track of what was important in their lives.
Christensen encourages building and implementing strategies in your career and your personal life to achieve your goals. The underlying tenet of that success is how you allocate your time, money, and other resources. How you spend these resources will determine your life’s outcomes.
How you allocate your resources is where the rubber meets the road. Real strategy—in companies and in our lives—is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about where we spend our resources. As you’re living your life from day to day, how do you make sure you’re heading in the right direction? Watch where your resources flow. If they’re not supporting the strategy you’ve decided upon, then you’re not implementing that strategy at all.
Lesson #3: “Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.”
Christensen tells a story from his college days when he played university basketball. His team worked hard all season and made it to the finals of some big tournament. The championship game was scheduled on a Sunday. For Christensen, a deeply religious Mormon, playing on the Sabbath (the “seventh day”) was against his religious beliefs.
Christensen did not comply with the coach’s demand to break the Sabbath statute “just this one time” for the big game. Christensen did not want to violate his religious principles. His team won the tournament anyway.
Because life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over and over in the years that followed. … Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. However, each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal-cost analysis, you’ll regret where you end up. It’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time.
Idea for Impact: Intentionally choose the kind of person you want to become. Commit to that path.
Read Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life (2012.) It’s not a long book—perhaps overly worded in parts—but it’s a intense and thought-provoking book.
Christensen and his co-authors don’t provide answers. Instead they present guiding principles that make you put things in perspective and help you become intentional about building a contented life. The parallels between running a successful business and running life are worthwhile.