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  • Teresa Carey

The Measure of a Meaningful Life (and Year)

Updated: Sep 17, 2021


Don’t you love it when you come across something left behind that has more personal value than when you last saw or remembered it? Such is the case with this article.

After writing it in January of 2020, I never published it. As I opened it yesterday for a possible refresh and update, I decided to publish it exactly as originally written. Without this context, the first two paragraphs may be confusing and are obviously dated. However, with this context, it feels serendipitous these almost 11 months later.

What an absolute unforgettable start to 2020. As we’ve crossed into this new year and decade, many of us have experienced both triumph and joy, as well as loss and pain. Elation in KC is overwhelmingly apparent as our beloved Kansas City Chiefs will return to the Superbowl after a tiring 50-year gap. Others across the nation are in our fan camp simply out of gratitude they don’t have to watch the Patriots play for or grab another title.

Unprecedented fear has set in due to the unknowns surrounding the possible spread of a raging virus we know little about. Some of this residual has spilled into the markets with the uncertainty of longer-term impact on the global economy. On the softer more human side, hardly a heart has been untouched with the news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing, representing a blighted hope with many more miles to go in continuing to make a difference.

With these events capturing much of our attention from the media, another significant soul was taken much too early, yet went unnoticed by many. His influence on how we think about business and life will leave a lasting legacy. For these reasons, I want to raise a glass to a life well- lived by Dr. Clay Christiansen.

Christiansen was taken early at the age of 68 after a long, heroic battle with leukemia. He was an American academic and business consultant, as well as a Professor of Business at Harvard Business School. His impact on business will long be felt by those who grasped his theory of “disruptive innovation” unveiled in his work, The Innovator’s Dilemma. Many have referred to it as one of the most riveting and impactful ideas of the century. He was a co-founder of Rose Park Advisors, a venture capital firm, and led Innosight, a management consulting and investment firm specializing in innovation. Christiansen landed a coveted spot on the cover of Forbes in 2011, where he was captioned as ‘one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years."

In addition to these profound impacts Christiansen made professionally, many of us also have unforgettable personal take-aways from his book How Will You Measure Your Life?. His thesis was based on how many of the lessons we use in business should also be applied to life. The work is a stirring and spiritual message about how to claim a life well lived. Here’s some of his best advice we can apply in any year (and especially in 2020):

  • Create a strategy for life and allocate your resources accordingly – Keep the purpose of life illuminated in day-to-day decisions on how to allocate time, talents, and energy.

  • Avoid the “marginal costs” mistake - Christiansen reminds us, “It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.” Giving into a decision based on “just this once” thinking because the cost is only marginal sets us up for a potentially dangerous precedent - causing waste and regret.

  • Create a culture that works for you and your family – Just like in business, daily behaviors and habits drive and define the culture we create for our personal lives. Self-esteem and confidence come because we do the hard things and make the hard decisions every single day - early and often.

  • Carry a spirit of humility – Accept that everyone, not only those we may deem as smarter than us, have something to teach us. In doing so, Christiansen reminds us our learning possibilities are endless.

  • Choose the right yardstick – At the end of the day, it’s not about what we’ve achieved, it’s about the lives we’ve touched.

As we continue to move throughout 2020, there will be many events and emotions that will likely engage our energy and efforts. By focusing on what matters, we can create more meaning as the true measure of a life well lived. We are grateful, Dr. Christiansen, for all you’ve taught and gifted to us.

Thank you, 2020. You’ve been the year that forced us to measure the meaning of life and apply the power of disruptive innovation in ways never imagined.

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