‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’—An Application of Lessons from HBR

Clayton M. Christenson teaches at Harvard and he works with students to educate them on management theory, innovation and growth. In a nutshell, he teaches them what actions yield what results. On the last day of class he has students posit answers to three critical questions:

  • How I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
  • How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
  • How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

These questions might seem like a no brainer, but they’re not at all. I’ve never been arrested but I have gone through divorce and family tragedy and I have found myself at crossroads in my career when I wasn’t sure if I was happy or just complacent and after starting my own company, I’m forced to think about these things in a greater context because my actions impact those around me. It’s not that they didn’t before. In a sense I have always had a team of people relying on me in one capacity or another. It’s just that I didn’t recognize it before.

To answer the first question: how can I be sure I’ll be happy in my career; I’ll share an anecdote.

In 2007 I had spent a year eloping and moving to Alaska with my then-husband whom I had known since I was 8 years old. We spent the year going dog sled racing and traveling up and down the west coast through Anchorage, Seattle and British Columbia. Then we finished the year traveling from Alaska to Pennsylvania by Uhaul before settling into his parents’ home until we bought a place of our own. At this time in my life I was offered an opportunity to make $60,000 the first year as a financial advisor for a prestigious firm. I passed all of the interviews and loved the culture but there was just one problem: I didn’t learn the way they were teaching me. Every single day I struggled through the online exams only to fail and fail again. I was discouraged and unhappy. We wanted to buy a house and he was unemployed so I felt pressure to bring home money to finance our goal. One night after the umpteenth time of trying to take the test and failing, I went to bed and asked him how he felt about me quitting. He said, “Jasmine, you’ll either love your paycheck or you’ll love your job. Pick which one is more important to you.” The next day I quit and went back to a job as a newspaper editor making pennies on the dollar and loving my job every day. I didn’t have a lot of money but I sure was rich.

Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Now, as I shared before I have gone through a divorce—a bitter, ugly bifurcation that cost me more than $20,000 in savings, and thousands more in tax returns, my home and more than half of my property. I lost my home and damn near my sanity. But more than all of those things, I feel as though I lost my time and that’s a resource I can’t get back. I believe that money comes and goes. They print more of it every single day so I’m not going to worry about a resource that can’t be depleted. But time: I lost it.

I intentionally planned to have a healthy relationship with my spouse. I tried the Love and Respect books, marriage counseling, pre-marital counseling, following Martha Stewart’s guidelines for a clean house and more. I worked out hard at Crossfit and Krav maga so I’d be fit. I didn’t let myself go. But it didn’t work. We fought constantly. We lost respect for one another. We had different values. We didn’t have an enduring source of happiness. It was seven years of hard work that ended in bitter disappointment, many travels and ultimately failure. From this I learned that you’ll face adversity with friends, family and spouses. Really, what holds people together is respect and shared values. If you don’t have that foundation, no matter what you build it’ll crumble.

Finally, how can I make sure I stay out of jail?

This is a hard one.

Here’s what I mean: the past year my business partner stole thousands from the business my misappropriating funds. I contacted the police and thought he may face jail time. That didn’t happen. I thought he’d have to pay the funds back quickly. That too, didn’t happen. I thought he’d be held accountable. Again, that didn’t happen.
On the other hand, I relied on a professional who gave me bad advice and I lost $25,000 in the process.

This gives me pause and confuses me.

The first act was done maliciously with the intent to destroy something I had built. The second was bad advice from a trusted professional and foolishness on my part to follow their discernment.

The question “how can I make sure I stay out of jail” is hard because you really don’t know the consequences of any behavior until you do it. Yes, I can hedge my bets and work on wisdom and discernment but ultimately I can’t predict the future. I can just try my hardest to make good decisions, safeguard myself and my business from undue risk and hope that I am building a business that will outlast me, but I don’t know what the future holds. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. both ended up in jail and they’re some of the most influential leaders of our time and yet at the same token Al Capone, Charles Manson and Ted Bundy also ended up in jail.
How can I apply this question to my business? File taxes, do the right thing by people, avoid hubris and make sure I have a good lawyer, I suppose.

Ultimately though without a taking one of Christenson’s classes, I guess that I’m learning management theory, innovation and growth by studying what others around me are doing and seeing what actions they take to yield what results. I try to follow the results I like and avoid the consequences I abhor, and give myself the grace to learn through experience.

About the Author
Named Top 100 Leaders by 2012 Magazine, Jasmine Grimm has been nominated for Central Penn Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40,” the Woman of the Year, and The Lancaster Chamber’s ATHENA Award.

Jasmine founded Ruby, Inc. a personal styling business that teaches women how to dress for their body types and became a two-time nominee for Inc. Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 Top Young Entrepreneurs in America. She won the 2013 SCORE Business Development Award, the won the Central Penn Business Journal’s Top 25 Women of Influence Award in 2013 and the 2013 Leadership Award from the MS Society.

She has been a popular guest lecturer at the Maastricht Institute of Entrepreneurship and has been featured in Under 30 CEO and Productive Magazine, was the cover story for Harrisburg Magazine and her writing has graced National Geographic Television and Film, Harvard University and more.

She’s a 5,3,8,3 on the Kolbe A Index and her strengths include input, relator, learner, responsibility and achievement.

For more info, see her Google+ Profile.