Measure your success by more than your title and pay

You might not go to Harvard Business Review expecting a long, personal tale of faith, morals and values — but I love HBR for knowing success means so much more than increasing profits.

Clayton M. Christensen wrote a powerful essay called, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Not to spoil it for you, but one of the more moving parts of this great reads is below:

This past year I was diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that my life would end sooner than I’d planned. Thankfully, it now looks as if I’ll be spared. But the experience has given me important insight into my life.

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

I wouldn’t do his beautiful essay justice to try to summarize it all — really, just go read it — but one big idea that came through for me was about keeping your priorities straight. Know what it is you want from your life and make sure you’re making decisions every day that line up with those priorities.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily emergencies and time sucks and forget what matters most.

You get flattered because your boss offers you a promotion, but do you stop to consider whether the extra pay is worth the increased stress and time away from your family? You don’t have time to exercise or see your friends or play music because you’re so busy … but we all have the same 24 hours, so could you choose to use them differently?

You don’t have the money to visit your parents or best friends, but are there things you buy that matter less to you than those core relationships?

We all have to evaluate life’s trade offs against our own needs and values, and the first step in that is knowing what it is you value.

Here’s a snippet that I especially liked:

a company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in. If a company’s resource allocation process is not managed masterfully, what emerges from it can be very different from what management intended. Because companies’ decision-making systems are designed to steer investments to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate returns, companies shortchange investments in initiatives that are crucial to their long-term strategies.

Over the years I’ve watched the fates of my HBS 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.

Have you given thought to how you measure your life’s success? How are you doing at achieving it?

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Categories: career, health and well being, home and family, lifestyle

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1 reply

  1. Oh, Colleen, I live in this question every single day. In many, many ways, doing so has made my life very rewarding. I can comfortably say that I don’t take the people I love for granted. I never let anything get in the way of my most important relationships. But sometimes, I dwell too much in this place…. I’m so afraid of that mid-life crisis moment of “oh shit, what has it all meant” that often I paralyze myself by insisting upon meaning at every turn…. which leads to a lot of navel-gazing and stuck-in-my-head time, trying desperately to craft a career that’s meaningful to me on a personal level. Personally I’d like to see more narratives coming from people who’ve gotten this right — who feel like their careers (or life’s work) are an authentic reflection of their most deeply held values. Do you think there are very many people like that??

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