How Will You Measure Your Life? - Chapter 4 - Don’t Be A Jackass [My Title]
Carlsbad, New Mexico
January 7, 2020
[The real title of this chapter is “Your Strategy Is NOT What You SAY It Is.” You have to walk the walk - talk is cheap. Ouch. ☹️]
Real strategy—in companies and in our lives—is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about where we spend our resources. As you’re living your life from day to day, how do you make sure you’re heading in the right direction? Watch where your resources flow. If they’re not supporting the strategy you’ve decided upon, then you’re not implementing that strategy at all.
The dilemma we all face near the end of a workday: do I spend another half hour at work to get something extra done, or do I go home and play with my children? Here is a way to frame the investments that we make in the strategy that becomes our lives: we have resources—which include personal time, energy, talent, and wealth—and we are using them to try to grow several “businesses” in our personal lives. These include having a rewarding relationship with our spouse or significant other; raising great children; succeeding in our careers; contributing to our church or community; and so on.
However, our resources are limited and these businesses are competing for them. It’s exactly the same problem that a corporation has. How should we devote our resources to each of these pursuits? Unless you manage it mindfully and explicitly, your personal resource allocation process will decide investments for you according to the “default” criteria that essentially are wired into your brain and your heart.
As is true in companies, your resources are not decided and deployed in a single meeting or when you review your calendar for the week ahead. It is a continuous process—and you have, in your brain, a filter for making choices about what to prioritize. But it’s a messy process. People ask for your time and energy every day, and even if you are focused on what’s important to you, it’s still difficult to know which are the right choices. If you have an extra ounce of energy or a spare thirty minutes, there are a lot of people pushing you to spend them here rather than there.
With so many people and projects wanting your time and attention, you can feel like you are not in charge of your own destiny. Sometimes that’s good: opportunities that you never anticipated emerge. But other times, those opportunities can take you far off course, as was true for so many of my classmates.
The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward. They ship a product, finish a design, help a patient, close a sale, teach a class, win a case, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. They leave college and find it easy to direct their precious energy into building a career.
The students in my class are often like this—they leave school with an intense drive to have something to show for their education. In fact, how you allocate your own resources can make your life turn out to be exactly as you hope or very different from what you intend.
For those of my classmates who inadvertently invested in lives of hollow unhappiness, I can’t help but believe that their troubles stemmed from incorrectly allocating resources. To a person, they were well-intended; they wanted to provide for their families and offer their children the best possible opportunities in life.
But they somehow spent their resources on paths and byways that dead-ended in places that they had not imagined. They prioritized things that gave them immediate returns—such as a promotion, a raise, or a bonus—rather than the things that require long-term work, the things that you won’t see a return on for decades, like raising good children.
And when those immediate returns were delivered, they used them to finance a high-flying lifestyle for themselves and their families: better cars, better houses, and better vacations. Better things. ☹️
The problem is, lifestyle demands can quickly lock in place the personal resource allocation process. “I can’t devote less time to my job because I won’t get that promotion—and I need that promotion …” Intending to build a satisfying personal life alongside their professional life, making choices specifically to provide a better life for their family, they unwittingly overlook their spouse and children. Investing time and energy in these relationships doesn’t offer them that same immediate sense of achievement that a fast-track career does.
You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. Your spouse is still there when you get home every night. And kids find new ways to misbehave all the time. It’s really not until twenty years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “We raised good kids.”
In fact, you’ll often see the same sobering pattern when looking at the personal lives of many ambitious people. Though they may believe that their family is deeply important to them, they actually allocate fewer and fewer resources to the things they would say matter most.
Few people set out to do this. The decisions that cause it to happen often seem tactical—just small decisions that they think won’t have any larger impact. But as they keep allocating resources in this way—and although they often won’t realize it—they’re implementing a strategy vastly different from what they intend.
A strategy—whether in companies or in life—is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, and money. With every moment of your time, every decision about how you spend your energy and your money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you. You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.
[I have a motto - if you can’t write it down, you don’t understand it. I think that applies to this topic. I regret how my intentions and my actions were for so long not consistent. And that I did not share my strategy - trying to articulate it verbally would have made it clear I didn’t have one - at least one that held water. Hmm, I guess I need to sit down and write out my current strategy. Thanks for sticking with me while I flailed about,]