When I graduated from High School I had grand visions of what I thought my life was going to be. I was going to go to college, make lots of money, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that was the extent of my planning process. I started college in my hometown, squandered a good deal of time, opportunity, and my father’s money until he had enough and pulled the purse strings.
After a couple false starts, I went to work at FedEx unloading airplanes and quickly learned the value of hard work. Even more than that, I met and worked with (and for) a number of exceptional leaders. These people made a tremendous impact on my life and career as I moved up the ranks into management. Thanks to that environment and those people, I began taking classes again and graduated with a cum laude B.S. roughly fourteen years after I started. This was definitely progress and led to many other opportunities, however, I still didn’t have a systematic or organized approach to what I wanted to do with my life. I had become better at taking advantage of opportunities as they came along but still didn’t have a clear sense of purpose. An article I recently read has helped me clarify some of this by considering how I will measure what I accomplish in life.
In 2010, Harvard Business Review published an article titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” In it, Clayton M. Christensen makes the case that in the same way that we can pursue happiness and fulfillment in life, we can also pursue these in the workplace. In fact, Christensen suggests that the process for both of these pursuits is similar, if not basically the same. Based on my experience in the past two years, I would agree.
DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY?
Building on Herzberg’s theory, Christensen says that one creates a strategy for life, allocates resources accordingly, and then creates a culture to support the strategy and resources chosen. As I stated earlier, maturity, hard knocks, and good people provided the motivation for me to make better choices about opportunities that presented themselves. However, it was not until I formally started a process of mapping out how I wanted to see the course of my life play out that I really began to be intentional in my choices.
In creating a strategy, I first asked myself two questions: who I wanted to be remembered by and for what things I wanted to be remembered. I then created a series of accounts that represented the priority areas of my life, including accounts for my wife, my faith, my career, and my children, among others. For each account I created a vision of the desired future for that account and a corresponding statement of purpose. Next I allocated resources in the form of setting SMART goals for each account. Finally, I created concrete action steps for each goal that would help foster a culture of long-term success and periodically measure my progress.
DO YOU HAVE A PLAN?
Answering the initial questions of who and what, creating prioritized accounts with an envisioned future, and developing a purpose statement for each account served to create a rather robust yet clear value system that now guides most, if not all, of my decisions. Starting an Executive MBA program was one of those decisions. After systematically evaluating my life and making a plan for the future, continuing my education and enhancing my skills were clearly important steps in moving forward to achieve my professional goals. Having this value system in place acts as a filter to evaluate opportunities, serves as a motivator to overcome inevitable barriers, and provides a yardstick to measure progress.
Christensen adds a few more words of wisdom in the article such as the importance of humility and the importance of choosing the right yardstick to measure success. In my opinion, the most important advice he offers is to avoid the “Marginal Costs” mistake. Sooner or later, we will all face difficult situations with tough choices. In those situations the easiest option will likely require some compromise of our values. We will tell ourselves that we will only do it this one time and never again.
The reality is that one time probably won’t hurt much. One small lapse in judgment seldom defines people for a lifetime. However, people rarely take the easy way out just one time. One time leads to a second, then a third, and before you know it your “one time” choice to manipulate some numbers on a budget report has turned into an embezzlement conviction and prison time.
As Christensen rightly points out, “…it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.” The “marginal cost” might be small today but over time, those “marginal costs” can compound into a heavy toll on your integrity. Avoiding that initial step in the first place could save you a long slide down the slippery slope.
The good news is that you measure yourself; but it starts with a plan, solid values, and the right yardstick with which to measure.