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Youth, Father’s Day a chance to measure success

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This weekend we celebrate Youth Day and Fathers Day, which raises the question for young people and our fathers: “How will you measure your life?”

This was a question addressed to MBA students in their graduation ceremony by Clay Christiansen, a Harvard Business School professor, who specialises in innovation. This graduation address is now a book with the same title.

Christiansen, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, explores the different dimensions on how to measure your life. I will dwell on five of these dimensions. The first one is: Create a strategy for your life. Wow, that hit me big time. What is the strategy for your life? What has been the strategy of our fathers’ lives?

We never consciously craft strategies for our lives, it seems. Most of us young people coast through life without clear direction. The key for Christiansen was having a clear purpose in his life.

Rumi, a Persian mystic, says: “Everyone comes into this world for a particular task and that is their purpose. If they do not perform it then they will have done nothing.”

The second dimension to explore is: Allocate your resources. This is what I would call investing your attention capital wisely. At the end of the day, value gets created according to where you invest your attention capital.

Most business people get surprised when their marriages fail and families disintegrate with their kids distant and aloof. They probably never invested enough attention capital on these important relationships assuming that they have to make money to support them.

The millions you make cannot buy back the childhood years of your children and will not be able to recreate the enduring bond built over years of a marriage.

The third dimension is: Create a culture. This refers to a way of doing things. Families with culture are much stronger because they have defined how things get done in their family and, therefore, can be clear on how to solve the problems that they will encounter.

Christiansen highlights the value of having a culture because it “defines the priority given to different types of problems”. Families without a culture are somehow rudderless and not strong when problems come.

The fourth dimension is: Remember the importance of humility. This is a key feature in the African culture underpinned by the principle of Ubuntu.

While people think that humble people are doormats, Christiansen highlights an important characteristic of humble people: “They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were.”

If you know who you are and what your purpose is you would never feel threatened by others and arrogance would never cross your mind.

Arrogant people have low self-esteem, which is why they hide it with their arrogance.

Humility is powerful when embedded in the culture of your family because it will create a strong foundation for many generations to come.

The last dimension is: Choose the right yardstick. Will my life be measured by the amount of money I made, by the deals I concluded during my career?

Christiansen said: “I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.”

It is the intangible measures at the end that matter. People will forget how much money you’ve made, how many deals you’ve concluded, that you took your company to record levels of profitability.

These things probably matter now to you, but in the greater scheme of things they will mean nothing because somebody else can surpass these tangible records.

This is probably clear for the billionaires of our age, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, as they plan to die broke by giving away their wealth during their lifetimes.

The legacies that matter are the ones that touch people’s hearts and souls and not related to wealth.

Look at the legacies of mystics, poets, writers, artists, musicians, scientists and great philanthropists. They have touched our hearts and souls, which is why their works and discoveries have an immortal slant to them.

Christiansen’s final recommendation is: “Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

Young people have a great opportunity to define this metric now and our fathers can reflect what that metric is for them and pass it on to us as part of their legacy.


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