The one question that could change your life forever

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Reading is one of my superpowers. I make time daily in my work life to consume an article or a chapter of a non-fiction book. I usually learn something—a new fact to absorb or a tactic to try.

 

Incredibly rarely, something I read actually changes me.

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Seven years ago, I first stumbled on an article called How Will You Measure Your Life? written by the renowned Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The piece captivated me, and I credit it with setting me on a new path. Christensen, who has since passed away, offered me a sense of direction and clarity. I find many people around me seek the same thing right now, which is precisely why I’m revisiting a seven-year-old article with you today.

 

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change. Reading it helped me ask and answer some big questions for myself—not by telling me what to think, but rather how to think. Christensen’s article applied big wonky management concepts to the everyday business of humanity. And he did it beautifully.

 

Since I first read “How Will You Measure Your Life,” I’ve made a habit of rereading it once a year. And each year I take something new from it.

 

Today, in case you’re one of those people sitting with big questions, I’d love to share some of my favorite insights. If you’ve ever wondered how to maintain fulfillment, balance, and integrity in your life and career, then this one’s for you.

 

 

How do I achieve fulfillment in my career?

Professor Christensen begins with an introduction to the work of Frederick Herzberg whose research in the mid-twentieth century taught us that money is not our most powerful motivating force.

 

As Money Girl Laura Adams tells us, money can buy us happiness … but only to a point. To have emotional well-being, we need to have enough money to cover basics like food and shelter comfortably. A widely cited 2010 study set that bar at $75,000 a year. Making more than that, data told us, didn’t equate to more happiness.

 

So if money doesn’t drive happiness, then what does? According to Christensen, it’s the opportunity to learn, to grow in responsibility, to contribute to the development of others, and to be recognized for your hard work and achievements.

 

So ask yourself: Are you having these fulfilling experiences in your work today?

 

If you could use a bump, are there ways you can infuse more life into your work? Can you take on a project that might help you expand your thinking, network, or knowledge? Can you mentor someone whose success you’d love to enhance? Can you publicly recognize a colleague who did you a small solid?

 

Or are you ready for a change you now realize you can afford to make?

 

Maybe you’ve always worked in corporate and dreamed of rolling into the non-profit space. Or you’re being pulled in multiple directions and want to transition to working part-time for a while. Or there’s that side hustle you always wanted to try, or that degree you dream of getting.

 

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work.

 

For me, this meant finally stepping out of a job that felt heavy and taking that chance on starting my own business. I’ve never looked back.

How do I maintain balance?

This, Christensen explains, is really a question of how your strategy is defined and implemented.

 

”… A company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in.”

 

If a company’s strategy is to win by creating high-quality products, but it chooses to maximize its profit margin by using cheap materials to manufacture them, well … I think you can see why the strategy is doomed to fail.

 

So the question here is what strategy have you defined for your life. And are you making the right investments to support it?

 

To make the analogy work, Christensen imagines each important part of his life as a line of business—his career, his family, and his community.

 

He wants each of them to succeed. So he allocates his investments—his time, his focus, his care—in alignment with that strategy.

 

“Allocation choices,” he says, “can make you turn out to be very different from what you intended.”

 

He goes on to observe that “People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers even though… loving relationships… are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

 

When I first read this, I knew my sense of balance was off. Yet I somehow felt powerless to change it. But there was something in his framing about the allocation of resources that really hit me. I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

 

Did I quit my job and start my business the next day? I assure you I did not. But this reframing was exactly the gift I needed to move from feeling constrained and trapped to feeling encouraged and ready to explore some options.

 

I’m not suggesting you follow my path. I’m inviting you to assess yours. Are you investing according to the outcomes you hope to achieve? Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

How do I keep integrity at the forefront?

Ever hear of something called the “marginal cost mistake?” I hadn’t. It’s the idea that most people who’ve fallen from grace (think Bernie Madoff) didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit a major crime.

 

“A voice in our head says ‘Look, I know that as a general rule most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once it’s OK.’ The marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in.”

 

Personally, I’ve never stood on the precipice of making a criminal choice. But this concept has shown up in my life in different ways.

 

In my life today, I stand firmly in the camp of respect and equality for every human being. If someone in my life—a client, a colleague, even a family member—makes an off-color joke or comment, I know it’s easier to ignore it. Just this once.

 

But I won’t. And having that clarity makes the choice so simple for me.

 

Maybe your boss asked you to “borrow” a competitor’s idea you heard about … just this once. Or a friend needs a reference and wonders if you’ll play the role of her former boss … but just for this one potential job.

 

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your “marginal cost mistake” will stay with you. I still remember kids I didn’t stand up for on the playground. I can’t change what’s behind me, but I can be a version of myself going forward that the little girl in me would be proud of.

 

I wish the same for you.

 

I hope these ideas have triggered some insight or courage or inspiration. May you be fulfilled, may you be in balance, and may you be the most gleaming version of you.

 

This article originally appeared in Quick and Dirty Tips and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

More from MediaFeed:

A guide to good mental health for women at every age

 

Each stage of your life can create different and new challenges to good mental health. The events that worry you as a 20year-old probably won’t be the same as what causes you stress when you’re 50.

 

At every age, though eating right, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, and having healthy relationships will help support your good physical and mental health.

 

If you’re worried about your mental health, talk to someone right away.

 

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According to the Office on Women’s Health, researchers think that most mental health conditions begin early in life, usually by 25 years old. Mental health conditions are common in young people, but some conditions are more serious or last longer than others. A recent survey showed that almost 1 in 3 young women 18 to 25 said they had a mental health condition in the past year.

 One in about every 10 young women has a serious mental health condition that impacts daily activities such as working or going to school.

In your early 20s, you may be dealing with stressful life situations such as finding a job or finishing college, moving out of a family home, and becoming financially independent. This can be a stressful time for anyone. It can be more difficult to handle these life changes if you have a mental health condition. Also, if you have lived with a mental health condition for most of your life, it can be difficult to know that you have a health problem that can be treated.

What you can do:

  • Protect your mental health by knowing the signs of a mental health condition.
  • Get help. If you feel hopeless or your thoughts or actions feel out of control, get help. You could have a mental health condition that can be treated with medicine or counseling.
  • Talk to a mental health professional. Treatment works, and the earlier you get treatment, the better it works.
  • Start building healthy habits now.Learn steps to support good mental health.

 

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In your 30s and 40s, you may be building a career, raising a family, or juggling many different responsibilities all at the same time. These changes can be exhausting and stressful and make it difficult to maintain good mental health. Your menstrual cycle or pregnancy can also affect your mental well-being, from mood swings during your period or pregnancy to problems getting pregnant. Learn more about reproductive health and mental health.

Perimenopause, the transition to menopause, often begins in your late 40s. Perimenopause can cause sudden hormonal ups and downs that can affect your physical and mental health.

What you can do:

  • Don’t forget about your own health. During your annual health checkup, often called a “well-woman visit,” talk to your doctor or nurse about your mental health and well-being.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health condition, follow your doctor’s advice about any medicines and steps you can take at home to feel better.
  • Develop healthy habits. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and staying connected with others can make it easier to deal with many of the stresses of your 30s and 40s. Having healthy habits can make it easier to find the energy to get help for mental health conditions.

 

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In your early 50s, you will probably experience menopause, which can affect mental health or stress levels. If you are in a romantic relationship, you may find that expectations and roles have changed over the years. By your 60s, you may be facing retirement or dealing with a chronic illness. You may also find yourself suddenly in an emptier house if you have children who have moved out, or you might be a caretaker for an elderly parent. Such major life changes can have emotional and even physical effects.

What you can do:

  • Treat menopause symptoms. Talk to your doctor about relief for menopause symptoms if they are uncomfortable or add stress to your life. Changing hormone levels during menopause and perimenopause can also affect your emotions. Learn more about how menopause affects your mental health.
  • Prioritize your own health. If you are a caregiver, try to be aware of your own stress levels and physical needs. You can also find help through a local support group, hospital services, or other community resources. Learn more about caregiver stress.
  • Stay active. If you are retired, keep your mind and body active. Retirement is an opportunity to spend time doing things you never had time for, such as learning a new skill or hobby, volunteering, or seeing friends and family more often. But being without a regular job and co-workers you see every day can also feel lonely.
  • Try something new. If you have “empty nest syndrome” — a phrase parents often use for the feelings of sadness or loneliness they experience when their children move out of the house  try something new. Volunteer, join a club, play a sport, or make a list of places to visit or things you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Stay in touch. Reach out to someone if you’re having trouble coping with the physical or emotional effects of aging. Lean on friends or loved ones, or make time to talk to a mental health professional. You are not alone.

 

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Your 70s and beyond can be a time of enjoying retirement, starting new hobbies, and seeing friends and family more often. It can also be the time when many people are diagnosed with serious health problems, such as heart disease or cancer. Sometimes, you’re dealing with the death of a loved one. People in their 70s and beyond may also face tough financial situations due to medical bills or running out of retirement savings.

Older adults who have serious physical conditions are more likely to develop depression.5 About 1 in 8 older women said they had a mental health condition in the past year.6 Adults over 65 also may have more trouble sleeping, which can make mental health conditions worse.

Although these challenges can be stressful and upsetting, there are tools you can use to help achieve good mental health in your 70s and beyond.

What you can do:

  • Maintain strong relationships. Older adults can be more isolated from their friends, family, and community. Having a strong social network of close family and friends can help your mental and even physical health.
  • Give something back. Research shows that volunteering your time and talents to benefit others can help you feel more connected and lower your stress levels.7
  • Eat well. Older women need just as many nutrients as younger women but may need fewer calories for energy. To get a personalized calorie recommendation, use the MyPlate Plan tool. Talk to your doctor about whether you might need to take supplements.
  • Be active. Physical activity can help your bones, heart, and mood. Ask your doctor about what activities are right for you. Most adults need to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or some combination of the two. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Most adults also need 2 days of strengthening activities to keep bones and muscles healthy. Learn more about physical activity for older adults.
  • Use the resources in your community. As you get older, it can be difficult to face a loss of independence like driving or living in your own home. Learn about the free and low-cost resources in your community that can allow you to maintain independence in older age. The Administration on Aging and your local Agency on Aging(link is external) are good places to start.

These tips can help you maintain your physical health as well as mental health. Learn the signs of a mental health condition, and talk to your doctor or nurse about your mental health.

 

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For more information about good mental health at every age, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Read more:

How to talk money with your family during stressful times

Here’s how post-pandemic life will be different for seniors

 

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

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