In his essay How will you measure your life? Clayton Christensen shares with his students a set of guidelines that have helped him find meaning in his own life. He poses three questions of his class:
“On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn those theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.”
It's a good litmus test of anyone at any point in their career. I know of many who have raced after the mighty dollar, they have beautiful houses, fancy cars, the most recent gadgets – while also having divorce, drug and alcohol problems and children to whom they can't relate. A good life? I think not.
I also know of dreamers who have chased illusions only to fall broken on the roads equally as dismayed at how their lives turned out. Also not such a good life.
As the mother of kids getting ready to go into the workforce I find myself conflicted about the advice I give them. Do I encourage my children to “go for it” to have a highly stressful but highly rewarding job which would without doubt throughout the years slowly intrude on their family life like a cancer does as it starves off a life needed organ? Or do I encourage them to ignore monetary goals and instead go for what they feel happy doing knowing that financial stress on a family can just as quickly bring it to its knees?
After thought and based on some of my own life experiences, these are the ansers to Christensen's questions I will give to my kids.
Question 1 – How can I be sure I'm happy in my life?
Follow your passion. It is only when your heart is in something that you will do a good job. But (and this is a big but) be proactive about it. Don't sit back and let someone just give you a job. Create the position you want. If you don't want to work inside an office and instead want to stand in front of a camera narrating a hiking show, then set that as your goal and figure out the steps you need to get there.
Always have a goal that includes your contribution (because it is through contribution that you will find purpose) and that also pushes you to continually do your best.
Questions 2 - How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
The family you create will be the most important work of your life. It will be your source of renewal and pride. It will hold you up when you don't think you have the ability to stand. It is a misplaced priority to think that your job is more important than your family and community. Know who your kids are. Spend time and laugh with them. Ask them how their day went and then LISTEN. Your spouse was chosen because at one point that was the person you thought you couldn't live without. Remember that.
Understand that your family was not created to take you away from your work or to add stress to your life. Your family is of utmost importance because it is not the work you have done that will be spoken of after you are gone but it is the connections you made, the children you have raised, and the love you shared for which you will be remembered.
Questions 3 – How can I be sure I'll stay out of jail?
Always and I mean always do the right thing. Your purpose on this earth is to make it a better place than it was before you arrived. The Golden Rule is called that because it is a precious truth – treat others as you would have them treat you. If you keep that one in your back pocket, you'll probably be okay.
If, however, events happen and you get pain in your life and feel demoralized, don't take it out on others. Its not their fault. Nor should you take it out on yourself. You've done your best with the tools you had. Trying to dull your life pain with drugs and alcohol is an insult to every person who was not able to wake up this morning. Instead of lashing out, get support. Go to your family, they know you best of all. Have compassion for yourself, remember that life is not easy at times. But also remember that for the most part, its an incredible adventure. Take advantage of it while you can.