10/02/2012 05:34 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

How Do You Measure Your Life?

You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was." -- Irish Proverb

Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. His students recently invited him to share with them how they could apply his principles to their personal lives.

As a prolific author who is also deeply religious, Christiansen told them what he wanted his MBA students to know when they left his classroom.

Create a Strategy for Your Life. It is one thing to have a strategy for your company and then to pour yourself into it to make it happen. But one also needs to create a personal strategy for one's life. Christiansen's own classmates from 1979 returned to reunions unhappy, divorced and alienated from their children. "I can guarantee you," he said, "that not a single one of them graduated with a deliberate strategy to have that happen."

If you are going to create a strategy for your life, there will never be a better time to do it than right now. The more time that goes by, the more demands relentlessly distract us and divert our efforts to the urgent at the expense of the important.

Allocate Your Resources. "Your decisions allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life's strategy." How anyone allocates their resources will cause their life to turn out to be very different what they intended. We cannot violate the law of sowing and reaping.

"If you study the root causes of business disasters," he observes, "over and over you'll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification." The same can be applied to the allocation of resources to one's personal life.

Create a Culture. Someone once described institutional culture as the group doing what should be done without being told. Christiansen says it this way, "Culture, in compelling, but unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems. It can be a powerful management tool."

Creating a culture in our personal lives also matters.

Avoid the "Marginal Costs" Mistake. Unfortunately, we can often employ "the marginal cost" doctrine. 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, and you don't ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails.

As a deeply religious man, Christiansen made a commitment not to play basketball on Sunday. Even when his team at Oxford University played the final game of the British version of the final four, he declined to play even 'just this once.' He has never regretted his decision not to compromise his convictions.

Remember the Importance of Humility. Christiansen once asked his students to describe the most humble person they know. Among other qualities, they concluded these humble people always had a high level of self-esteem. "We decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others."

Choose the Right Yardstick. As I read this article I learned that Christiansen had been diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that his life would end sooner than he'd planned. He 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."

As someone said, "Life isn't a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, latte in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, 'Woohoo, WHAT A RIDE!'"

Think about it.