How Will You Measure Your Life? – A Guide to Happiness in Your Career and Personal Life

Cristiana Tănase

10 minutes read

How will you measure your life by Clayton Christensen

What sets us in motion? How do we define our goals and strategies? How do we balance careful planning and spontaneity? How valuable is the school of experience? We can always ask ourselves these questions both in our careers and personal lives, says Clayton M. Christensen, a business consultant and professor at Harvard Business School, in the bestseller “How will you measure your life?”.

Rich in interesting examples from business and family environments, the book’s pages build a parallel between how we can create professional fulfilment and happy relationships with our dear ones. In their pleadings, Clayton Christensen and the two co-authors show that at the root of most companies’ or businessmen’s failures is the deviation from a healthy life philosophy and from fundamental rules in setting priorities, developing processes and allocating resources.

Happiness in your career – from desire to reality

Many people wish for professional fulfilment and dedicate most of their lives to this goal, but few are those who manage to avoid a major trap: if you allocate your time and talent to activities that offer a quick reward, to the detriment of the goals that really motivate you on the long run, you might get into a slippery slope.

When we find ourselves stuck in unhappy careers – and even unhappy lives – it is often the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us.

This misunderstanding is fuelled even by widely applied economic practises, such as the theory of incentives, which holds that when you need to convince someone to do what you want, when you want, all you have to do is pay them very well. And yet, reality abounds in examples of hardworking and devoted people who earn little money (for example, employees in charities), which leads to the conclusion that “the real motivation lies in convincing people to do something because they want to do it” (the motivation theory).

So, are you looking for a happy career? Then do not forget that, in addition to hygiene factors (salary, professional status, working conditions, etc.), your activity must also offer you motivators, namely how significant, interesting and challenging you find what you do, how well your merits are recognized, how much does your work sustain your personal development.

The motivators’ strength can never be overestimated, says the author. It is essential not to lose our “sense of difference between what brings money and what causes happiness”.

Calculation and serendipity

Another interesting chapter of the book “How will you measure your life?” deals with the subject of the balance between deliberate and emergent strategies. In our lives and careers, we seize, anticipate and deliberately try to benefit from various opportunities. Still, as we move in those directions, we must be prepared to face unexpected challenges and opportunities, that is, to build along the way various emergent strategies.

Since not everything can be planned, we need to know how to distinguish between initial estimation and what actually happens after a business plan’s implementation. In addition, we must know how to distinguish whether we are at a point where a deliberate strategy is appropriate or whether, on the contrary, it is best to allow ourselves to experience alternative ways.

Resources, processes, priorities

Our professional and personal life strategies result from numerous daily decisions about how we spend our time, energy and money. Both in our careers and on a personal level, we must carefully build three essential capabilities – resources, processes and priorities – while keeping in mind the danger of outsourcing those skills that we will still need to master very well in the future.

We cannot claim harmonious relationships with our children in adulthood if we leave their childhood in the care of others. We cannot maintain our top market positions if we outsource all the processes, no matter how good our profits look in the beginning.

Resources refer to what we own and use to solve a problem, processes refer to how we do it, and priorities refer to why we act in one way and not in another.

Many people focus too much on identifying and creating resources, but resources alone do not teach us to overcome important obstacles in difficult conditions. Besides, “self-esteem comes from achieving something important, when it is not at all easy to do it”. We may wonder, instead, what processes we need to develop in our lives and how to set our priorities in conjunction with well-formulated goals.

A happy life means an honest life

Big failures start from petty deviations. We might have a rigorous ethic about the major decisions in our lives, but we are more duplicitous and indulgent with ourselves in minor, everyday decisions. Have you ever happened to break a personal rule “only this time”?

Clayton Christensen calls this the danger of marginal thinking, giving a memorable example: the bankruptcy of the British investment bank Barings, as a result of one of its traders trying to hide what was initially a relatively minor loss from a risky financial transaction.

The moral is obvious:

“The only way to avoid consequences of uncomfortable moral concessions in your life is to never start making them in the first place.”

In the end, our success in life cannot be reflected by summary statistics (functions, distinctions, money). Only by consistently respecting our principles, both in business and in our personal lives, can we truly enjoy long-term success.

Who do you really want to become?

Discover with us new inspiring Professional Development & Self Improvement Books, which take us closer to finding best practices and new working models successfully implemented.

The book review of “How will you measure your life?” was made with the help of Bookster

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Written by Cristiana Tănase


Former bank officer for 12 years, I am currently testing entrepreneurial remote work and a self-taught way of life which combines different hobbies.

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