Starting a career in management can seem like it’s all about giving orders or telling people what to do. Then, as we get more
experience and become more knowledgeable about running a business, we can think the juice comes from savvy deal-making or even buying and selling companies. While that can be exciting, it can leave one “feeling dry” or exhausted, especially during the tough times if we haven’t found a deeper meaning to why we’re working so hard.
Harvard Business School Professor and author Clayton Christensen teaches his MBA students to understand the need to find their life purpose before they embark on their careers. He even wrote a best-selling book called, “How Will You Measure Your Life”:
More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.
I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life.”
While this work/life advice can sound theoretical coming from a college professor or author, it becomes a stark reality when explained by a former CFO of Lehman Brothers, who found out in her mid-forties that being on top of her career came at a steep price:
I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. … Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn’t just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was. Erin Callen
The last part of that quote is bolded because it is so profound. Talk about losing a rudder!
For those of you who want to know the end game, there’s a great article, “Regrets of the Dying”, written by a nurse who took care of people at the end of their lives. Here are their top five regrets:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
So, whether you’re an experienced manager or just embarking on a career, it’s never too late to explore your life purpose. What do you want your legacy to be? If you’re 90 and on your deathbed, what will you have wanted to have accomplished?