How Will You Measure Your Life?

How Will You Measure Your Life?

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How Will You Measure Your Life?

Clay Christensen changed my life this week.

I read his book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” and found myself coming up short.

I won’t tell you where I came up short … quite yet.  Instead, I’ll summarize some of the major questions he asks.  Then, let’s see if and where you too might have some things you want to change in your life.

Christensen is a professor at Harvard Business School.  He was asked by the 2010 graduating class to show them how to apply to their personal lives the management principles he teaches in his classes.  In class, instead of telling his students what to think, he’s always taught them how to think.  And that’s what they were asking of him again.

He suggested that the students seek solid answers to three questions:

•    How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
•    How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
•    How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Stay out of jail?  Well, let’s look at all three in relation to our lives.

But before anything, let’s define words like “happy” and “happiness,” whether we’re talking about our careers or our personal lives.

What Motivates Us

Christensen’s conclusion is that the greatest motivator in our lives is not money.  Instead, he defines it as:

•    the opportunity to learn
•    the chance to grow in responsibilities
•    a way to contribute to others
•    being recognized for our achievements

As I see it:

•    By having the opportunity to learn, we never become stagnant, but instead look forward to each day.
•    By having the chance to grow in responsibilities, we’re continually progressing over time.
•    By having a way to contribute to others, we can share from our personal bounty, however we define it.
•    By being recognized for our achievements, we enjoy a healthy self-esteem.

My Takeaways

Here are a few of my takeaways from Christensen’s book.

Our Careers:  For Christensen, having a clear purpose in his life is an essential part of that happiness, against which everything can be measured.  And one’s business pursuit or career is just one tool for achieving that purpose.  Yet success without that purpose can be hollow, as we so often hear from those at the top.  So having a clear purpose in life is non-negotiable, and the earlier, the better.

Our Home Life:  When time is a commodity in short supply, do we apply those 15 minutes to doing one last email blast … or to spending a few more minutes with our spouse or children?  Remember, both our businesses and our relationships are an accumulation of all the little investments made over time.  However, as achievers, too many of us are more focused on the immediate return from that one email than on how successful our relationship will be with our partner or children 10 or 20 years down the line.

You see, whether for business or on the home front, we’re predisposed towards actions that bring us immediate returns.  That means that when we’re deciding between different actions to take, over time we find ourselves dedicating less and less time to the things we once said were the most important to us.  So we need a way to remind ourselves of what matters the most.

Keeping Our Noses Clean:  We each claim to have a set of principles and values by which we live or die.  But when some extenuating circumstance comes along, suddenly we think maybe it would be okay to make an exception.  (Christensen believes that making that exception is what ultimately led two of his seemingly respectable classmates to end up in jail.  “I’ll just do it this one time.”  And once a value is compromised, it gets easier and easier to do so, even if the intention was never to go as far as facing jail time.)

Life is full of extenuating circumstances.  And Christensen’s life has taught him that it’s infinitely easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time … than just 98% of the time.  With the former, you make the decision once.  With the latter, you have to make the decision each time the question presents itself.

How Will We Be Measured?

When we reach the end of our lives, what’s the measuring stick that will be used?  Will it be the dollars we’ve accumulated?  Or the level of prominence?  Or the number of cars in the garage?  Or the square footage of our homes?

Or will it be the number of people whose lives we’ve touched?  In short, will we have fulfilled our purpose?

Now it’s your turn:  What is the metric by which your life will be measured?  Once you know that, if you’ll resolve to live every day using that as your basis of decision-making … 100% of the time … in the end, you can’t help but have lived a successful life.

Let us know in the Comments section below if this article raised any questions for you.

For me?  I realized that things like those emails do take precedence over spending time with friends and loved ones … more often than I like.  And it’s something I’m willing to change.  So, right now, I’m headed to Hollywood Beach to go have a drink and a long-overdue talk with a very good friend.

What about you?


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Lorna Landis

    Right On!! I am sure you enjoyed your time with your friend! Good for you, and we all have to pay attention to spending quality time with our loved ones, be the spouse, family or friends!

    • A couple of ice-cold Dos Equis Ambars, the fine spray off the ocean, plus hours and hours of heartfelt “woman talk” did both our souls a world of good, Lorna. It was long overdue!

  • We are always busy every single day but it is so important to find the time for our family and friends. And we must spend time with our loved ones. Thank you for another great post Sharon!

    • It’s so easy to assume that “they’ll understand” … after all, in many cases we’re “doing it for them, too.” But the real question to ask is which would they prefer: a little more money in the bank? Or time shared with you?

  • Baeth

    Love your writing and wisdom, Sharon! So glad to be a part of your circle!

    • You honor me, Baeth. And, BTW, I’m so glad I’ll have a chance to meet you in less than a month!

  • Great ideas and words of wisdom to live by. Thanks for sharing this!

    • MarVeena, so many go through life “powered” by society’s assumptions of what a good life is and what their goals should be. Imagine how much more of a motivator it would be to have identified a very personal, individual metric!

  • myspalmer

    Sharon, this article is a brow raiser for sure. Thanks for sharing Christensen’s insights (clicking to amazon now). For me, it’s a level of integrity and consideration to live by. I don’t compromise those however, I find people often like to deem you intense when your values are immovable.

    I love growth. Been that way forever, I’m not rigid in my values rather I hold them dear until some profound wisdom leads me beyond that value. Never beneath it. So, in an effort to keep myself sane, I’m building new relationships with advocates of personal development and integrity who can relate to these importance’s. Thanks again Sharon!

    • Mys, I found Christensen’s position on holding to your values 100% instead of 98% brilliant! Sure simplifies life not to have to question yourself at each event. Not that those values can’t change. As you say, by staying open to what is ultimately the growth path, we do evolve over life. So the fluff at the top might change easily, but the core stuff requires bringing in the big equipment to shift. 😉

  • WOW! Such an inspiring article, Sharon! I agree with Christensen’s conclusion that the greatest motivator in our lives is not money! Thanks so much for sharing this! Loved it!

    • I know you’ve gone through some major changes in your life recently, Alexandra. What would you say is YOUR greatest motivator today?

  • Great post! And good food for thought. If I had to add anything, I would say that MAKING THE DECISION to be happy, contribute, help others, etc. is the beginning of having it happen. Once you make the decision that you WILL matter, and WHY, you are there. At least, that’s how I see it 🙂

    • You’re right, Martha. Without that initial decision, nothing gets moving. And, unfortunately, that mindset is not the natural state of every human … wish that it were!

  • What a powerful message,Sharon! Making the decision once and sticking to it is the best policy, when it comes to our values. I would like to read Christensen’s book, it sounds like a really profound one.

    • I go through a lot of books, Sherie, and this one’s a real keeper! It’s people like Christensen who start planting seeds in my brain that — one day, after some deep reflection — actually lead me to shift in my thinking about one thing or another. Makes it hard for me to understand people who don’t read … how do they avoid getting rigid in their thinking? 😉

      • I am an avid reader, too, Sharon! I love how it broadens my thinking!

  • Great post Sharon at the end of the day it all boils down to Choices, what are we choosing to do and be in this life…

    • That’s right, Carly. I think it also boils down to what depth of choices we’re willing to make: just the superficial ones that present themselves each day … or the core ones that really drive us in a specific direction. 😉

  • NormaDoiron.NET

    I like the one that says, ”
    By having the opportunity to learn, we never become stagnant” it is so true. So many are just sitting in their chairs complaining about their life BUT if they knew more, they could be more… sad. thanks for the great read! Norma

    • We’re not taught any of this, Norma, so unfortunately many are never ever curious about how things could be different in their lives. But then, that would mean schools and other ‘influencers’ would have to teach personal responsibility. Boy, wouldn’t that be a change …?!?

  • Jeanne Rust, PhD

    This is a lovely article, Sharon!

  • Inspiring post, Sharon. I love the four motivating principles. When we are moving forward and doing something meaningful, we find joy. Thanks for sharing, I’ll check out his book. Looks like a good one!

  • olgahermans

    It is always good to stay informed and moving forward that keeps me happy. I like to achieve things and I love to be around people that know me and love me. But I am also certain that it is a choice that we have to make, to be happy no matter what. I am happy even if I don’t get this….or that. Things don’t make us happy, happiness comes from from the inside.

    • Well, Olga, for someone who promotes a “Choice Driven Life” … you are totally coherent with your message! Doesn’t it feel good? 😉

  • Tereza

    Great article, very interesting (and inspiring)!

  • Tatyana Gann

    I love the part keeping our noses clean…Good stuff!

    • Something tells me you’re a master at keeping your nose clean, Ms Tatyana!

  • Pat Moon

    Sharon, what a thought provoking article! Just how do I measure my life? My first thought is that I desire to measure it by seeking to live like Jesus and to be Christlike in all I do. Maybe that is too general? Growing and sharing are important things to measure but I also believe spending quality time with those I love bring me the most joy and happiness. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pat, as long as those measures are what motivate you and give you a basis for clear decision-making going forward, they’re the right measures for you! After all, remember that when you do your final tally, you’re going to be doing it in your head and in your heart … 😉

  • Marie Leslie

    This book is definitely going on my to-read list. What a great review–lots to think about. Heading off to see if it’s available from the library right now.

    • Marie, we hear so much about purpose, purpose, purpose … and it’s interesting to see a Harvard professor’s take on its importance in our lives …

  • Great post Sharon! I’ve added this book to my reading list. I’m really glad to hear that he doesn’t count money as the main motivator. I’ve always found whenever I do something just for the money, it never works out very well. If I do it for one of the other reasons he mentions, especially to help someone, it’s much more enjoyable.

    • Helena, I think where the motivation breaks down around the money is when it becomes a scorecard in itself, instead of being earned for what it can be or do for you and others. It’s so important to take the “power” away from money … yet still grant it its rightful place as a simple tool to achieve other things.

  • I have this book on my shelf but haven’t read it yet. I will have to indulge myself when on vacation at the end of August. I am encouraged by the fact he doesn’t use money as a motivator… a lot do. I am sharing your wisdom.

    • I have a few books like that as well, things that intrigued me but got set aside for the moment. Having someone rekindle that intrigues is even more yummy! It’s a great book to read on vacation … where you’ll have the moments to think about the aha’s it raises!

  • this is something interesting to ponder. I really hope that I will have done a good job with my children and made a positive impact on the world around me.

    • So, Barbara, whenever you have a decision to make, your questions become “Will this enhance the job I’m doing with my children?” or “Will this have a positive impact on the world around me?” If that truly sums it up, you’ve defined it! (Or if you need to tweak it a bit, that’s fine too, because it’s part of the process ….) 😉

  • I have really tried to be what I have always want to be in business and out my face and brand out there. I hide and wasn’t really me. Now I’m shouting this is me and this is what I do!

    • For a lot of us, Liz, it’s easier to stay out of the spotlight. Sometimes it’s because we’re still building up the courage to tell the world who we really are. Sometimes we still don’t know. Sounds as if you’ve figured it out … and are ready to shout it from the rooftops. Good for you!

  • I loved this post Sharon, I have so much to take away from it! It’s another reminder that having money isn’t the way to measure your success and happiness in life. Happiness for me does come from the quality of my relationships.
    I have a very wealthy friend who leads an enviable lifestyle and I’m always left feeling a little bit envious of her holidays, cars, homes …. when she comes to stay. I don’t have her material wealth, but I do have two gorgeous daughters and I know my friend would trade in everything to have children. But I wouldn’t trade what I have for all the money in the world!

    • Carolyn, as I was headed into my financial tsunami, already under tremendous pressure, I remember seeing a beautifully coiffed blonde woman, hair swept up, perfectly manicured fingernails, driving a deep blue Mercedes. I was stopped at a traffic light, next to her. For an instant I envied what I imagined her lifestyle to be. Then I thought about all the things that could really be going on in her life, and the envy slipped away. When I did lose everything and had to start over … on a more solid foundation … I realized MY ideal life had nothing to do with what hers looked like on the outside. Sounds as if you’ve realized the same thing!

  • cathsj

    well said. I spent this week with my baby niece. Families are what matter most.

    • Relationships with loved ones do make up an important part of a successful life, Catherine. So what would you use to measure that success? What drives every decision you make? “My life will have been a success if I cared for my family”? You may disagree with Christensen, but remember his definition of happiness is a little broader: “the opportunity to learn, the chance to grow in responsibilities, a way to contribute to others, and being recognized for our achievements”… 😉

  • Amy

    Sharon, For me, my life will be a success if I position myself to have choices so I’m never stuck in a situation which would pressure me to compromise my priorities or my integrity.

    • That’s an easy one to integrate into your life today, Amy, as you make each decision going forward. And it’s one I fully understand!

  • We really have to be ourselves and know what is important. Sounds like a great book!

    • You’re right, Mandy. It’s too easy to stay caught up in the overload of everyday … especially now that technology has pervaded every aspect of our day! But getting those two things down gives us the foundation for all the next steps … 😉

  • Oh Sharon! Did you hit the nail on the head with this one! So made me really realize and think about how I use my time. I grew up in a family with a very strong work ethic, my father immigrated from Italy with is mother and brother at age 13 and grew up really appreciating the “American Dream” and that if you worked hard you can do anything. I’m definitely guilty of trying to squeeze in that last e-mail of the day, or getting an article finished. Thanks for the perspective!

    • Glad that served as a little wake-up call, Lisa. I wrote a piece on workaholism about this time last year (because it resonated with me, of course!), and there’s a fine line between working hard and workaholism. And it’s triggered by how we glorify hard work; we all get mixed signals …

  • Sondra

    Oh the pangs of guilt as I read this post Sharon. Friends I haven’s seen, or even spoken to in months, all in the name of “busy”. YIKES!!