I was sitting in a coffee shop staring out over the ocean in a windy Cape Town reflecting on a debate I had just with a client about the significance of blue chip companies having to accommodate change in order to create environments where diversity in its broad sense can exist. My argument was (and is) that because generational, cultural and gender diversity exists, we have to adapt historically homogeneous environments to facilitate change and diversity. As I stared out at the ocean my mind wondered towards the increasing need that people in the workplace have for finding a balance between their personal and professional lives and more and more younger people are wondering what this balance looks like and how they can obtain it.

All these questions require some level of self awareness and the raising of one’s EQ (emotional intelligence) in order to be flexible and adaptable to change, as well as know how to cope with change.

In the midst of all this pondering, I received an article from a colleague (from Pete Laburn’s Blog), which made a lot of sense to me, which is why I would like to share it with you.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

The Harvard Business Review recently published an address by HBS professor Clay Christensen to his graduating class of 2010. His speech was on how to apply his principles and thinking to the personal lives of his students rather than just their careers. Entitled “How will you measure your life?”, Christensen captured many key points which resonated deeply with my own thinking and which I have found of huge value in my own personal life.

Christensen captured many key points which resonated deeply with my own thinking and which I have found of huge value in my own personal life.

Christensen recognises that being of service rather than seeking monetary wealth should be the key focus in our lives. Using Frederick Herzberg’s assertations, Christensen says that “…the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements.”

Christensen believes that these opportunities in learning, responsibility and contribution are rewarded when they are done to build people up. This is in contrast to the typical deal making actions most people do in order to build themselves up first and then only other. His advice is clear, “Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.”

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of advice that Christensen imparts is keeping your focus on your personal life rather than just your career. Citing examples of how fellow friends and colleagues had wound up unhappy, divorced and alienated, he believes that “They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.” The world is only going to continue to get more hectic and fast paced and in order for a life to be successfully balanced individuals need to decide on a personal purpose and keep their focus on that. As he further goes on to state “The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.”

Much of our western society has been dominated over the last 20 years by instant gratification. It is bred from an early age and engrained in just about every aspect of our contemporary culture. It takes a huge amount of wisdom and self-restraint to reject this predisposition towards it and rather spend time building something that is slow growing yet truly sustainable. Christensen says “If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.”

The idea of moving away from instant gratification is part of a larger ideal to be forward thinking. Many organisations and individuals are still stuck in the mindset of the here and now, seeking solutions and rewards that can be granted at their demands by using tactics that have worked in the past. Christensen clearly outlines that those tools that have worked successfully in the past will never be as good as the tools used to create capabilities in the future. “We learn in our course that this doctrine biases companies to leverage what they have put in place to succeed in the past, instead of guiding them to create the capabilities they’ll need in the future.”

Christensen’s most pertinent points come at the end of his address when he talk about personal morality and ethics. Although some might say that Christensen is a contractarianist who allows himself no room for movement, his thinking is simply that “Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.” Once you have made the choice about what is wrong and right, what you stand for, what your purpose then you owe it to yourself to stay committed to these values. Using an example of how he did not play in an important basketball match owing to the game being played on a Sunday he say that “The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”

Ultimately, measuring one’s life is a greater symptom of knowing thyself and being happy with what you see. There are many different and influential people who have contributed greatly to the world by being of service and being humble. Out of this Christensen has recognised that “One characteristic of these humble people stood out: They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were. We also decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. Good behavior flows naturally from that kind of humility.”

Christensen’s address is profound and his thoughts are both meaningful and applicable to our own lives. Despite being taught from an early age to make a ‘success’ of our lives, as individuals we should rather strive to be of service to life and to our purpose. The degree to which you choose to do this is entirely your choice.

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