Anant Jain

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Book Review

How Will You Measure Your Life is a book that makes you pause and reflect on your work, your relationships, and your values. I first came across Clayton M. Christensen through his other, more famous book called The Innovator’s Dilemma which popularized the concept of Disruption theory. I got a chance to read How Will You Measure Your Life last month over many cups of coffee, and would highly recommend it. What follows are my favorite lines/quotes from the book —it consists of three parts:

Finding happiness in your career

The theory of motivation suggests that you ask yourself the following questions: Is this work meaningful to me? Is this job going to give me a chance to learn? Will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? Am I going to be given responsibility? These are the things that will truly motivate you, not the more measurable aspects like your salary or your title. Don’t chase a mirage by focussing on those more tangible measures — instead find out what makes you tick.

Balancing emergent and deliberate strategies is important — you should be prepared to experiment with different opportunities, ready to pivot, and continue to adjust your strategy until you find what it is that both satisfies the hygiene factors and motivates you. Only then does a deliberate strategy makes sense. If you’ve yet to find something that really works in your career, expecting to have a clear vision of where your life will take you is just wasting time. Even worse, it may actually close your mind to unexpected opportunities.

Finally, how you allocate your resources of time, money, and energy decides what path you’re on — not just merely talking about it. Watch where your resources flow — if your resource allocation process is not supporting the strategy you’ve decided upon, then you’re not implementing your strategy at all. “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’ll never become that person.”

Finding happiness in your relationships

“Your relationships with your family and close friends are going to be the most important sources of happiness in your life. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it’s often too late to repair them. This means, almost paradoxically, that the time when it’s most important to invest is when it appears, at the surface, as if it’s not necessary.” We’re constantly tempted to divert our time and resources to things that give us immediate payoffs, and our family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand our attention. These two things add up to neglecting the people you care about the most in the world.

A powerful way to deepen your relationships is to change your perspective from thinking about what we want to understand what is important to the other person. What’s usually missing is empathy. Ask yourself “What job does my spouse most need me to do?” And then devote your time and energy to the effort, suppress your own priorities and desires, and focus on doing what is required to make the other person happy. In sacrificing for something worthwhile, you deeply strengthen your commitment to it.

The theory of capabilities suggests that children need to be challenged. They need to solve hard problems and develop values. If you find yourself handing your children over to other people like tutors or coaches to give them all these experiences — outsourcing — you are, in fact, losing valuable opportunities to help nurture and develop them into the kind of adults you respect and admire. Children will learn when they’re ready to learn, not when you’re ready to teach them; if you’re not with them as they encounter challenges in their lives, then you are missing important opportunities to shape their priorities.

Coping with a difficult teacher, failing at a sport, learning to navigate the complex social structure of cliques of school — all these things become “courses” in the school of experience. The natural tendency of many parents is to focus on building their child’s resumé: good grades, sports successes, and so on. But it would be a mistake to neglect the “courses,” or the right experiences that help them build the skills they’ll need to succeed in life.

Be intentional about building the right family culture. What does your family value? Is it creativity? Hard work? Entrepreneurship? Generosity? Humility? Culture is like an auto-pilot, and for it to be an effective force, you have to program it right. If you do not consciously build it and reinforce it from the earliest stages of your family life, a culture will still form — but it will form in ways you may not like. Although it’s difficult for a parent to always be consistent and remember to give their children positive feedback when they do something right, it’s in these everyday interactions that your culture is being set. And once that happens, it’s almost impossible to change.

Staying out of jail

To live a life of integrity, understand the importance of full versus marginal thinking. Most of us face a series of small, everyday decisions that rarely seem like they have high stakes attached. Marginal thinking will make us compromise our values, thinking that it’s a one-off thing. But over time, these seemingly innocuous decisions can play out far more dramatically. 100 percent of the time is easier than 98 percent of the time. The only way to avoid the consequences of uncomfortable moral concessions in your life is never to start making them in the first place.

Christensen wrote this book at a time of intense personal reflection — he had just recovered from the same type of cancer that had taken his father’s life. I liked how he and his co-authors used various theories and examples from the business world to present the parallels in our everyday life, career, and families. I’m a huge advocate of running your life like a business— complete with thinking of yourself as a product and having correct metrics in place to measure you’re headed down the right path. This book is full of inspiration and wisdom, and I highly recommend it.

This is #24 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.

Good question to ask yourself once in a while :)