I was looking for inspiration a couple of weeks ago and serendipitously, my good friend (and mentor) Pat gave me a shout….we went to grab coffee. The conversation was great, as always, and in between bites of breakfast burritos he dished bits of personal and professional advice.
As we started talking about the future, he asked me a really tough question……what’s your 5 year plan….how about further out, where’s Erik going to be in 10 or 15? I immediately realized the gravity of that question; to be honest, it weighed heavily on me for the rest of the day. I didn’t have a great answer.
He recommended a book: How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen. Christensen is a Harvard professor and author of the popular book The Innovator’s Dilemma. In his latest book, he turns some of those business practices on personal life.
Christensen begins by recounting his 5 year reunion from Harvard Business School. He remembers the exotic cars, beautiful women, fancy job titles with top-tier consulting firms and investment banks. His classmates had done extremely well for themselves, showing off their wealth and prestige that they had earned through hard work and great personal sacrifice. But a strange thing happened by the 10th reunion. Some of his classmates didn’t show up. Stories of divorce, personal dissatisfaction with their career, and general unhappiness ran rampant. By the 25th reunion, one of his classmates (Jeffery Skilling) has been famously incarcerated for his role in the Enron scandal.
What had happened? Why were these “successful” people suffering from such personal struggle? What he saw in his Harvard Business School class were a bunch of high performing individuals, working their tails off to pay back the crushing student loan debt they had amassed during business school. As they made more money, they also invested in more luxuries thus creating a never-ending cycle. A former boss (and wonderful friend) once put it best telling me “you never have more money…just nicer crap.”
“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
The company you work for has a strategy, the organization you volunteer with has a mission, you probably have defined specific objectives for your current role knowing that 2013 is coming. Why not do the same for your life? Steve Jobs was a very purposeful person who even claimed that he was more proud of the things he said “NO” to in his personal life and professional career. There’s no doubt that Steve’s success (at Apple, then Pixar and Apple again) was a product of purpose.
My purpose? Personally, I want the people around me to be happy with life, successful in what they do and encourage them to make the world around them a better place. Professionally, I want to continue building skills that make me a better leader and influencer, giving me the ability to continue spreading my personal goal.
That may sound extremely soft, but defining a high level purpose is a big step forward… Understanding the end goal gives me something to measure every single step forward in life. What should my next career move be, what kind of people should I surround myself with, where should I invest my free time, money and other scarce resources? Without a plan, those finite resources could easily be wasted.
If you haven’t clearly identified a high level purpose yet, go pick up this book. The digital version is only $3.99 and I can guarantee it will be an invaluable tool regardless of where you are in life.