An Enduring Source of Happiness

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Clayton Christensen died last week and he left us this article, which was written ten years before his death. His questions…

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Articles, like Clay’s, encourage us to take positive actions to guide our life path. However, particularly when I was young, I had no idea about my future self.

Frankly, it was tough for me to understand myself in the present => ruled by passions and an energy I could neither understand nor control.

I had radically changed my life when I came across Clay’s article. These changes were heavily influenced by another HBR article, Managing Oneself, which I read annually. Combining the articles will give you more than applying them separately.

For me, it remains a whole lot easier to see “what not to do.” To see where I don’t belong and to consider where my repeated mistakes are likely to take me.

Every mistake, not addressed, will repeat and strengthen.

Via Negativa – defining a life with meaning by knowing what it is not => from 15 to 30 years old… my life was a case study of what not to do.

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Clay makes the point that you need to get going with creating your ethical anchor because, otherwise, you’ll get too “busy” to address the stuff that’s likely to wreck your life!

Career, family and self => here is a question I asked myself for 1,000 days around my 30th birthday…

If this behavior continues then where is it likely to take my career, my life and myself?

Initially, I was focused on other people’s shortcomings. What they were doing to me, and around me. Eventually, I started to look inward, at my own role.

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I was very fortunate to start my career in finance, a field where you can build capital in a relatively short time => 3-7 years learning the ropes => 3-7 years saving money, keeping my personal burn rate down and building the courage to leave.

In finance, winning is defined by making money and, looking back, the people that stand out were the ones unwilling to bend their ethics to make money. My first team was led by these sorts of people and I loved it.

What wasn’t working for me at the time was my personal life, which was filled with periodic alcohol abuse and consistent overeating.

I lacked a central anchor around which to make myself a better person => sport, religion, family, ethical work… there are many ways to “solve” this core need.

My firm, and friends, tolerated my personal shortcomings and tried to nudge me towards better behavior.

I smile remembering their nudges.

If you’ve tried to reason with a belligerent, and aggressive, person then you’ve probably discovered that polite nudging is ineffective.

What works better is time, and the inevitable smackdowns that life delivers to us all.

You might get fired, you might get really sick or injured, your firm might go bust, a close friend might die…

These painful episodes can provide an opportunity to reflect and ask, “Where are my choices likely to take me?”

By 31, the path ahead was becoming clear and it was likely to be filled with regret.

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In my early-30s I decided to spend a lot of time in places filled with people living in a way I wanted for myself => an outdoor life with friends.

I also found a central anchor, endurance sport, which provided a framework to address (some of) my personal shortcomings => binges were pushed into my offseason…

Turns out my “career” after finance wasn’t going to be elite sport. Two problems there. First, I wasn’t able to make much money! Second, another values misalignment with the concept of winning => we excuse awful behavior in our athletic champions.

My central pillar was going to become family, but not because it is fun. Rather because it is extremely difficult in a way that provides meaning and satisfaction.

My problems are an ideal fit for molding me into the person I want to be, forcing me to connect with others and providing me with an enduring source of satisfaction.

Getting yourself to the “right” set of problems can be more useful than solving everything coming across your plate. In my 20s, I was highly productive but not getting anything meaningful done!

Print the two articles out, make notes and take one positive action each day.

Where are my actions likely to take me?