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How Will You Measure Your Life?

On the day that I learned of Clayton Christensen’s death, I read this, the one major book of his I had not read previously. It was worth the wait, because it summed up what he had tried to do as a scholar and a teacher in ways that made me regret, yet again, that we had never met.

The book is an expanded version of the commencement address he gave at Harvard Business School’s graduation a decade ago–shortly after he was diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately killed him. The talk, too, had precursors in the lecture he usually gave in the final session of his course on strategy in which he tried to apply management theories to the personal choices his students would have to make over the course of their careers.

Like many of his students, I was surprised at how much overlap there is between the pathways toward disruptive innovations in business and those that lead toward a meaningful life, writ large.

Put simply, a successful life cannot be measured solely in terms of a successful career. Too many of his classmates and students at HBS found that out to their chagrin.

You also can’t plan that career–let alone that life–in detail on the day you graduate or start a job. Careers and lives emerge in a combination of serendipity and deliberation.

As with everything else, tis book focuses not just on disruption but on what he always called the “job to be done.” It’s your job to define what you want to get out of your life in terms of career, family, social impact, and more. Unlike a lot of his colleagues, Christensen never put the pursuit of wealth first, although he undoubtedly ended up a wealthy man himself.

Rather, as you will see in reading the book, he calls on his readers to find the balance that works for them.

My own version of that balance and Christensen’s would have been different. However, we would agree that family, spiritual values, personal integrity, and more have to be on any such list.

I smiled and nodded my head a lot while reading this book.

I also kept writing notes to myself of things I needed to pay more attention to in measuring my life–since I’m older than Christensen was at the time of his death.

Nonspoiler alert. I won’t list my lessons here. Instead, you should read the book and come up with your own list.

And say a silent prayer of thanks for his life well led.