“How will you measure your life?”

I just finished reading How will you measure your life? by Clayton M. Christensen (with James Allworth and Karen Taylor). The book spends a lot of time focusing on the intangibles which make up the real quality of our lives. Things like time spent building close relationships, integrity, and values. These don’t show up on any balance sheet.

Christensen, a professor at Harvard business school, observed that so many of his brightest and most promising students ended up unhappy in their lives – divorced, struggling with addiction, or in jail. All this despite the fact that they had (by all outward appearances) successful careers, enviable homes, and the like.

Christensen points out something I’ve mentioned before: “You can talk all you want about having a strategy for your life, understanding motivation, and balancing aspirations with unanticipated opportunities. But ultimately, this means nothing if you do not align those with where you actually expend your time, money and energy.”

That is, there is a great difference, for many of us, between what we say is important, and what we actually spend our time and energy on. And according to Christensen, this is where the trouble starts. In other words, when we say things like “family is important” but then put family at the end of our long to-do list, we’re in trouble.

What’s tricky is, we’re not going to notice the effects of that type of decision-making until later. No, for now, it will look like everything’s fine. But down the road, if we don’t invest time and energy in important relationships (to name just one example), over time those relationships will not survive the neglect.

Consider this: “Many of us think that the important ethical decisions in our lives will be delivered with a blinking read neon sign…[L]ife seldom works that way. Instead, most of us will face a series of small, everyday decisions that rarely seem like they have high stakes attached. But over time, they can play out far more dramatically.”

Every decision you make is important in determining the quality of your life and charting a course for your future. For happiness and success (by your own definition), it’s worth considering the question, “How will you measure your life?”