"How Will You Measure Your Life?" The Question that Changed Me Forever

Reading is one of my superpowers. I make time daily in my work life to consume an article or a chapter of a non-fiction book. I usually learn something—a new fact to absorb or a tactic to try. 

Incredibly rarely, something I read actually changes me. 

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change.

Seven years ago, I first stumbled on an article called How Will You Measure Your Life? written by the renowned Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The piece captivated me, and I credit it with setting me on a new path. Christensen, who has since passed away, offered me a sense of direction and clarity. I find many people around me seek the same thing right now, which is precisely why I'm revisiting a seven-year-old article with you today.

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change. Reading it helped me ask and answer some big questions for myself—not by telling me what to think, but rather how to think. Christensen's article applied big wonky management concepts to the everyday business of humanity. And he did it beautifully.

Since I first read "How Will You Measure Your Life," I've made a habit of rereading it once a year. And each year I take something new from it.

Today, in case you’re one of those people sitting with big questions, I’d love to share some of my favorite insights. If you’ve ever wondered how to maintain fulfillment, balance, and integrity in your life and career, then this one’s for you.

How do I achieve fulfillment in my career?

Professor Christensen begins with an introduction to the work of Frederick Herzberg whose research in the mid-twentieth century taught us that money is not our most powerful motivating force.

As Money Girl Laura Adams tells us, money can buy us happiness … but only to a point. To have emotional well-being, we need to have enough money to cover basics like food and shelter comfortably. A widely cited 2010 study set that bar at $75,000 a year. Making more than that, data told us, didn’t equate to more happiness.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work.

So if money doesn’t drive happiness, then what does? According to Christensen, it’s the opportunity to learn, to grow in responsibility, to contribute to the development of others, and to be recognized for your hard work and achievements. 

So ask yourself: Are you having these fulfilling experiences in your work today? 

If you could use a bump, are there ways you can infuse more life into your work? Can you take on a project that might help you expand your thinking, network, or knowledge? Can you mentor someone whose success you’d love to enhance? Can you publicly recognize a colleague who did you a small solid?

Or are you ready for a change you now realize you can afford to make?

Maybe you’ve always worked in corporate and dreamed of rolling into the non-profit space. Or you’re being pulled in multiple directions and want to transition to working part-time for a while. Or there’s that side hustle you always wanted to try, or that degree you dream of getting.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work. 

For me, this meant finally stepping out of a job that felt heavy and taking that chance on starting my own business. I’ve never looked back.

How do I maintain balance?

This, Christensen explains, is really a question of how your strategy is defined and implemented.

”…A company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in.”

If a company's strategy is to win by creating high-quality products, but it chooses to maximize its profit margin by using cheap materials to manufacture them, well … I think you can see why the strategy is doomed to fail.

So the question here is what strategy have you defined for your life. And are you making the right investments to support it?

To make the analogy work, Christensen imagines each important part of his life as a line of business—his career, his family, and his community.

He wants each of them to succeed. So he allocates his investments—his time, his focus, his care—in alignment with that strategy.

I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

“Allocation choices,” he says, “can make you turn out to be very different from what you intended.”

He goes on to observe that “People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers even though… loving relationships… are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

When I first read this, I knew my sense of balance was off. Yet I somehow felt powerless to change it. But there was something in his framing about the allocation of resources that really hit me. I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

Did I quit my job and start my business the next day? I assure you I did not. But this reframing was exactly the gift I needed to move from feeling constrained and trapped to feeling encouraged and ready to explore some options. 

Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

I’m not suggesting you follow my path. I’m inviting you to assess yours. Are you investing according to the outcomes you hope to achieve? Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

How do I keep integrity at the forefront?

Ever hear of something called the “marginal cost mistake?” I hadn’t. It’s the idea that most people who’ve fallen from grace (think Bernie Madoff) didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit a major crime.

“A voice in our head says ‘Look, I know that as a general rule most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once it’s OK.’ The marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in.”

Personally, I’ve never stood on the precipice of making a criminal choice. But this concept has shown up in my life in different ways.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your 'marginal cost mistake' will stay with you.

In my life today, I stand firmly in the camp of respect and equality for every human being. If someone in my life—a client, a colleague, even a family member—makes an off-color joke or comment, I know it’s easier to ignore it. Just this once. 

But I won’t. And having that clarity makes the choice so simple for me.

Maybe your boss asked you to “borrow” a competitor’s idea you heard about… just this once. Or a friend needs a reference and wonders if you’ll play the role of her former boss… but just for this one potential job.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your "marginal cost mistake" will stay with you. I still remember kids I didn’t stand up for on the playground. I can’t change what’s behind me, but I can be a version of myself going forward that the little girl in me would be proud of.

I wish the same for you.

I hope these ideas have triggered some insight or courage or inspiration. May you be fulfilled, may you be in balance, and may you be the most gleaming version of you.   

Industry Expert's Top Career Advice

1. How can people network effectively when everything is virtual (at the moment)?

It is easier than ever BECAUSE it is virtual. Everybody is stuck in place with little to do. So if you ask the right way, it is easy to get quality time for Zoom & coffee or FaceTime & wine. Here are two good approaches: Start by getting together virtually with your mentor. Then ask your mentor to bring his or her mentor the next time. And then ask their mentor to bring their mentor the next time. It is amazing how quickly you can ratchet up a power mentoring circle. The other approach is to pick the companies where you want to work, then start adding its people on LinkedIn. Like and comment on their posts and shares for a few weeks, then send a note saying why you liked something they shared. Get a conversation going. THEN ask for a 15-minute Zoom and Coffee by saying, “I am really interested in your company and wonder if you might give me a little free advice to help me along.” Some people make excuses, but others will say yes. So keep trying until you get a yes.

Stay in touch. Remember it is important to find personal things you have in common, like where you grew up or that you both like cycling or that you are both into dog rescue. Whatever. Keep the conversation going, but don’t be so clingy that you feel like an online stalker.

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2. How do you find the balance between authenticity and professionalism when interviewing and networking?

Be comfortable with yourself and be who you are. That said, you always have to decide when you need to turn the volume up or down a little. If your authentic self cusses like a sailor, wait until your private time to let that loose. If you are quiet and reserved, display a little more personality. If your wardrobe is dated or boring, you have to up your game. Is it inauthentic for me to wear a really cool dress on a Zoom call if I was just in shorts and flip-flops right before and will be in shorts and flip-flops as soon as the call is over? No. I’m not selling out to project a false image. I’m making sure they hear me at full strength.

3. How do you connect with coworkers who might be younger, but more experienced if you're coming back to the workforce after taking a few years off?

You don’t want to come off as clueless, but show a genuine interest in what they are doing and ask about it. Instead of saying, “Duh, I don’t get this,” just say, “Hey, I’m watching you do that and wonder if you might show me how to do it.” Be quick to compliment others on what they are doing. I want to emphasize that because we all like to get compliments. It shows that you aren’t threatened or feeling overly competitive. Make sure you are seen as a team player. Don’t feel like you have to show off that you are faster and smarter. Always be positive and inclusive, never gossip or complain. That will likely set you apart, but in a good way where others enjoy being around you.

4. How do you know if you're on the right career path? What's the first step toward getting on a new one?

If you constantly dream about chucking it all to do something else, it may be time to just chuck it.

I want to say, “If you are on the wrong career path, you’ll know it.” But I have seen people flounder at their jobs for years, wondering why they are having so many problems. Everyone but them sees that it is a bad fit. If it feels wrong, it  probably is. And if you are consistently criticized, getting bad reviews and being held back from promotions and other opportunities, and it doesn’t get better when you change companies, it is a sign that you are on the wrong path. If you hear yourself saying, “I hate my job,” you have to ask if it is the job, the company, or your profession. And if you constantly dream about chucking it all to do something else, it may be time to just chuck it.

5. How much does LinkedIn matter in terms of a job search? Is there a "secret to success" for the perfect LinkedIn profile?

LinkedIn is critical for job hunters. If you are being fixed up on a date, you’re going to check out that person’s Facebook or Instagram to figure out if you like how the person looks and thinks. That’s how business people use LinkedIn. They size who you are, what you’ve done, how you look and if you are someone that might belong in their sphere. It may seem superficial, but LinkedIn is a great place to advertise your value.

It may seem superficial, but LinkedIn is a great place to advertise your value.

Your LinkedIn profile is so much more than a list of what you have done. Show some personality and oomph in your headline and subhead. Have a magnificent photo that is well-lit, current and flattering. Get recommendations.

6. What is the best piece of advice you've heard recently?

The way someone treats you is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. I heard someone say that and BAM! That is the truth!

Tips And Services To Help Your Bookkeeping Go Paperless

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a catalyst to shift businesses toward digital transformation, it merely sped up the process. Businesses needed to scramble to move much of their operations online so workers could efficiently collaborate with each other and maintain business continuity during a difficult time.

Fortunately, departments not traditionally associated with the digital universe, like Bookkeeping, had an easier time adapting thanks to online services like Bookstime.com, a provider of digital bookkeeping tools with unique experience in difficult areas like sales tax automation, health benefits administration, and more.

Advantages of digital bookkeeping

Keeping track of every business transaction is among the most important and perhaps underappreciated tasks. Failure to keep track of transactions in a professional manner can result in a business owner making wrong decisions because they have inaccurate information.

Even worse, they might think they end the year with a profit but in reality, a bunch of small bookkeeping mistakes over several months means the business owner really lost money.

A shift to a digital platform eliminates these concerns. Online digital platforms make use of the most up-to-date accounting automation software that erases nearly every careless mistake. This is especially useful for a business owner who does the tedious but necessary job of bookkeeping themselves to save money. The more time a business owner spends on ancillary tasks, the less time they have to generate revenue and keep clients happy.

Some of the other advantages associated with going online include:

  • Eliminating clutter: keeping a clean home office is challenging enough but a digital platform means more space for higher priority files.
  • Save time: A digital bookkeeping platform is always available online with a few short clicks of the mouse. It can be accessed as needed and when needed in a few short seconds.
  • Environmental benefits: It isn’t unusual for a company to use at least 10,000 sheets of paper each year. Shifting resources online may seem like a small benefit but everyone has a responsibility to do a little bit more to protect our environment.

Case in point: Fill in a W-4

Every business owner is happy to hire new workers because it means they are expected to provide value to the company above and beyond their salary. But that doesn’t mean that the formal process is enjoyable.

One of the more undesirable parts of the hiring process is the pesky W-4 form that every employer has to ensure is properly filled in before a worker’s first day. Simply put, the W-4 form confirms how much income tax a worker wants to have withheld from their recurring paychecks. Under-withholding taxes means a worker will likely experience a shock come tax season as they owe money to the government. Over-withholding taxes means a worker is paying the government too much money and has to wait for a refund.

Digital bookkeeping can help simplify this process so you're less prone to errors. When other people’s finances are at stake, small careless mistakes could impact a worker’s desire to give the business owner 100% of their focus.

Businesses that shifted their bookkeeping process online to better navigate through the pandemic quickly realized this was a move that should have been done years ago. The advantages of having access to a clean and organized online tool far outweigh the costs.

The 2021 Career Wisdom You Need from Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Well, we made it. To 2021. The earth, moon, and sun each did their thing again. But somehow this year feels different. Because 2020 was a doozy and so many of us are deeply ready for a fresh start.

RBG fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Last year left many of us with a lot to mourn. For me, and for many, that includes the loss of a national treasure, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The diminutive woman, known affectionately as The Notorious RBG, served as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1993 until her death on September 18th, 2020, at age 87. RBG was the breaker of all kinds of ceilings. She fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Before I charge too quickly into the spin of 2021, I plan to reflect on some of the amazing life and career lessons RBG left behind. She gifted us a legacy of wisdom that will remain relevant for years to come.

So today, let’s reflect on some of what she taught us and consider how it might apply to our own adventures in the coming months.

1. To persuade others, don't react, respond!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved tremendous things in her lifetime. Much of her success required that she persuade others to share a point of view that may not have been popular.

And persuasive she was. Never one to steamroll or shame others onto her side, RBG was artful in how she changed hearts and minds.

She once shared with the New York Times some wedding-day advice she received from her mother-in-law: “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

And she goes on to say of that advice:

I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I believe she was telling us not to ignore or excuse unkindness or incivility but to label and rise above it in our response.

In 2021, we are all going to be processing and wading through the heaviness that was 2020 as we face the challenges of the coming year. Careless words are likely to be spoken. But when they are, try not to let them trigger a reaction. Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

The absence of your emotional reaction will make the intelligence of your response stand out even more. This is one way to bring hearts and minds to your side.

2. Disagree with an idea but respect the person who shared it

RBG maintained lifelong friendships with colleagues sitting on both sides of the political aisle. She was asked about her success at this many times throughout her career.

She spoke with NPR about her friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and shared that while they disagreed deeply on many issues, she respected him enough to listen to what he said. And although he rarely changed her mind, his thinking pushed and challenged her own, making her even better.

When an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it?

She also spoke of their finding common ground through shared interests and humor. She was able to separate her friend and colleague from the opinions he held. And this too feels like a useful skill to cultivate for 2021.

None of us knows what shape the workplace will take in the coming months. We will all hear many predictions, suggestions, and opinions. We will like some and hate others.

But when an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it? Is there something useful you can find in it?

Keep the idea and the person in separate corners.

3. Never stop learning

Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, responding to a letter from an 8-year-old girl

RBG never lost her appetite for more information, for expanding her mind. As much wisdom as she had acquired, it was never enough.

And in this, she wasn’t alone. According to Inc. Magazine, many of the world’s most successful leaders—from Warren Buffet to Tony Robbins to Mark Cuban—are voracious readers.

As we continue to navigate the uncertainty ahead, learning new ways to do things will be critically important. So make continuous reading and learning a priority in 2021.

Not sure how to make it happen? Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose your sources wisely. Don’t try to read everything. Explore different books, publications, or blogs to see which resonate most with you.
     
  • Schedule reading time. Put reading time in your calendar. Maybe it’s 10 minutes a day. Maybe it replaces what used to be a commute before many of us started working virtually. Get creative.
     
  • Try audio. Hey, like podcasts or audiobooks? They're a great source of inspiration, motivation, and knowledge. Maybe you can listen while you’re cooking or working out.

4. Prioritize self-care

RBG was so famous as an exerciser that her personal trainer published a book of the workouts she was still doing into her 80s. Once asked who the most important person in her life was, she famously responded, “My personal trainer.”

For RBG, intense exercise gave her the energy she needed to deliver her most impactful work. This is a lesson we all need to carry into 2021. As stress and burnout continue to threaten and plague us, we must all be mindful of how we manage our energy levels.

Working endless hours isn’t the most effective or fulfilling path to success. Working well is what delivers results. So find ways to care for yourself, to recharge your tank, every day.

You too may enjoy some intense exercise. Or you may choose to walk, meditate, journal, or call a friend. There is no right way to practice self-care, but doing it in some form is a must!

If you want some self-care guidance when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and coping with stress, here's where I shamelessly plug podcasts from my amazing Quick and Dirty Tips colleagues:

  • Get-Fit Guy with fitness pro Brock Armstrong
  • Nutrition Diva with nutritionist (and renowned nutrition myth-buster) Monica Reinagel
  • Savvy Psychologist with clinical psychologist and sleep expert Dr. Jade Wu

Search for these wellness experts on your favorite podcast platform or visit QuickandDirtyTips.com.

I hope these nuggets of wisdom have helped you feel empowered to take on 2021. These are only a few of the countless gems RBG left us with. They feel, for me, entirely relevant in this moment. So let’s honor and celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life together by letting her wisdom guide us through some murky months ahead.