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The Secret to Living the Life You Want

Allocating your resources wisely will help you become the person you want to be

By Clayton M. Christensen | July 27, 2012
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Clayton M. Christensen is the co-author of How Will You Measure Your Life? and the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

As Intel’s famed CEO Andy Grove once said, “To understand a company’s strategy, look at what they actually do rather than what they say they will do.”

Resource allocation works pretty much the same way in our personal lives as it does in our careers. You can check in on your priorities and gauge what's important to you by taking a look at how you dedicate your time and energy. Consider, for example, the dilemma many of us face at the end of a workday: Do I stay another half-hour at work to get something extra done, or do I go home to spend time with my spouse, partner or family?

How We Allocate Our Personal Resources

We use our resources — personal time, energy, talent, wealth — to try to grow several “businesses” that make up our lives. These typically include having a rewarding relationship with a spouse or significant other, raising great children, succeeding in our careers, contributing to our church or community and so on.

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Unfortunately, our resources are limited and all these “businesses” compete for our attention. Unless you manage your personal resources mindfully, you will end up allocating them according to the “default” criteria that are wired into your brain and heart. These might be behaviors you inherited by watching how authority figures in your family operated, yet the default may not reflect your actual values.

That's why it's important to use your brain as a filter — to make deliberate choices about what to prioritize.

The Danger of Not Allocating Resources Properly

Allocating resources is a messy process.

People ask for your time and energy every day, and it’s often difficult to make the right choices. If you have an extra ounce of energy or a spare half hour, there are a lot of people pushing you to spend it here rather than there. With so many people and projects wanting your attention, you may feel as though you are not in charge of your destiny.

The danger is that you then unconsciously allocate your resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible results. This often means your career, the arena that can offer the most concrete evidence that you are moving forward.

But the way you allocate your resources can help make your life turn out to be exactly as you hope — or very different from what you intend.

Unfortunately, I've seen many of my former Harvard Business School classmates inadvertently invest in lives of hollow unhappiness. And I believe their troubles stem from incorrectly allocating their personal resources.

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These peers were well intended: They wanted to provide for their families and offer their children the best possible opportunities in life.

But they somehow spent their resources on paths that dead-ended in places they had not imagined. They prioritized tasks that offered immediate returns — in the form of a promotion, a raise or a bonus — rather than the kind of endeavor that involves long-term work and doesn't show a return for decades, like raising good children. When those immediate dividends were delivered, they were allocated to finance a high-flying lifestyle: better cars, bigger houses and more luxurious vacations.

Although these former classmates intended to build satisfying personal lives alongside their professional lives, they unwittingly overlooked their spouses and children. Investing time and energy in those relationships simply didn’t offer the same short-term sense of achievement as a fast-track career.

You can neglect your spouse and, from one day to the next, it doesn’t seem as though your marriage is deteriorating. Your husband or wife is still there when you get home every night. And it's really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “We raised good kids.”

Crafting and Implementing Your Strategy

The problem is, lifestyle demands can quickly lock into place the personal resource allocation process. You say to yourself: “I can’t devote less time to my job because I won’t get that promotion — and I need that promotion to . . .”

I've found that although many people believe their family is deeply important to them, they actually allocate fewer resources to what they say matters most. Few people consciously set out to do this. But as they keep allocating resources this way, they're implementing a strategy that's vastly different from what they intended — and they don't even realize it.

A strategy — at work or at home — takes shape through hundreds of everyday decisions. With every moment of your time, every decision about how you spend your energy and money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you.

You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose in life, but here's the bottom line: A strategy is nothing more than good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.

How do you make sure you’re implementing the life strategy you want?

Carefully watch where your resources flow. If that allocation isn't supporting your strategy, you run the risk of derailing your dream.

If the decisions you make are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.
 
Adapted from How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon, Copyright © 2012, by Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins.
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