How Will You Measure Your Life?

Jan 16, 2015 1 Min Read

With the advent of Facebook, I have been fortunate to reconnect with tons of friends – many of whom I haven’t seen since we were in navy blue pinafores (and boys running around in their primary school uniforms!).

I have gasped with unabashed admiration at the heights they have achieved – running very successful restaurants and businesses, highly sought after for their areas of expertise – and yet others marching to the beat of their own drum.

From young, I realised that having a clear purpose in life is essential. In school, one of my professors talked about how we need to think deeply about our priorities in life and what success really means.

He said that too many people, in the pursuit of their own career goals, would use the language of “I am doing this for us, for our family”, when their spouses and children ask why they are never home.

My professor asked us:

“Did they ever ask if their families wanted this ‘success’? Have they prioritised their own needs, and simultaneously placed the guilt on their loved ones?”

Harvard Business School (HBS) professor Clay Christensen asked his students to consider these three questions:

  1. How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
  2. How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
  3. How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Christensen says:

“Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys – but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.”

For leaders

Over the years, I have started to distinguish between those who are managers and those who are leaders.

In my book, a manager is someone who is able to develop a strategy and mobilise a team to execute it – to excel and meet targets that have been agreed upon as measures of success for the company.

I believe that leaders go beyond that and take the time to build people who are firmly grounded in ethics and values, creating a groundswell of talent that ultimately still hits the organisation’s goals.

Great leaders, on the (third!) hand, are aware that if they do not create the right environment, there might be a tendency for their people to sideline other priorities in life.

As Christensen shares:

“People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers – even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

Are you aspiring to be a leader? Or a great leader?

For students

At a recent event, a young student asked an Ivy League professor how she might better prepare herself to be successful in applying for his university. He shared several areas she could work on, and ended with this:

“Distinguish yourself beyond the academic elements. There are other dimensions like family and community. Demonstrate that there is more to you than just academic achievement; that you can help to change the Malaysia of the future.”

Step up, stand tall and inspire your peers to find their purpose and guiding light for life decisions.

Karen firmly believes that age does not determine if someone is a leader, or a great leader. Feel free to comment in the box provided or engage with her at


Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 17 January 2015

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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