How will you measure your life?

"Take a hard look at yourself, your gifts, strengths and passions. Then try to distill your answers into a concise purpose statement," advises the author. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis
"Take a hard look at yourself, your gifts, strengths and passions. Then try to distill your answers into a concise purpose statement," advises the author. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis
Published August 3, 2012

Summer is a time when I catch up on my reading, and this one was no exception. One book that particularly resonated with me was Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? Christensen is a committed Mormon, a well-respected management scholar and a popular professor at the Harvard Business School. In 2010, as he was battling cancer, he was invited to give the commencement address to the school’s graduates. The book is an expansion of his address.

What Christensen has to say is helpful to any person of any age, and not just young adults. He focuses on questions of career, family and personal integrity. The epilogue alone is worth the price of the book as Christensen describes how to discern your purpose in life, which he puts into three steps-likeness, commitment and metrics.

Likeness is the person you want to become, but also the kind of person God wants you to become. Take a hard look at yourself, your gifts, strengths and passions. Then try to distill your answers into a concise purpose statement.

In reviewing my own life, here is my distillation of what I want to become: 1) A faithful priest, preacher and pastor who transforms lives in Jesus and builds up the church; 2) A loving and supportive husband and father who provides for the spiritual, material and emotional well-being of my family; and 3) A committed Christian and compassionate human being who gives and forgives as God does to me.

I encourage you to take some quiet time and write down what you want to become and what you believe God is calling you to become. It doesn’t matter your age. Life is a journey that we can start at any time.

Once you have articulated your likeness or purpose, you need to reflect on your commitment. Review your likeness and ask yourself: How do I become so deeply committed to these things that they guide what I prioritize on a daily basis? In the kind of world in which we live, we have to make decisions about how we will live out our values, making choices on what we will do and what we will not do.

Let me share some examples from my own life on how to commit to your likeness. Being aware that a priest’s work is never done. I intentionally schedule time with my family, reserving periods during the week just for them. Unless there is a dire emergency, I don’t bend from that schedule. I also reserve at least one hour each morning for personal prayer, even when that means rising at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday. One last example… My wife Heather and I are committed to tithing at least 10% of our annual income to church and charities. That 10% is a non-negotiable figure, even when that means scaling down our vacation plans or delaying work on the house. This is not a matter of boasting. We simply believe that being a committed Christian means tithing our income.

Whatever your commitments, they should express your priorities. How well are you doing on that score? Do your beliefs connect with your behavior, your life with your lifestyle, your creed with your conduct, and what you profess publicly with what you practice personally?

Once you have articulated your likeness and ascertained your commitment, the final step is to find the right metric to determine how well you are succeeding in your efforts. You do this by asking the question, “How will I measure my life?”

For many of us, we measure our lives by the income we make, or the awards we achieve, or the position we hold, or the status and recognition we enjoy, or the power and influence we yield. I remember a fellow law student telling me that his great measure of success was to make six figures. I am sure with inflation it would now be seven figures. A priest once told me that his driving ambition was to be a bishop. He became one-and he was an unmitigated disaster.

So how do you measure your life? We certainly don’t measure by numbers or statistics or income. Here Christensen gives us the answer when he writes: “…The only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people. When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce and whose discomfort I was able to assuage-a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had. These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life.”

Lastly, I think what Christensen says has deep implications on how we view the institutional church as much as our own lives. So often we use the wrong metrics to evaluate our churches. A church is far more than its budget or its buildings or even the number of members and average worship attendance, although these may be helpful indicators of health. In the end, what really matters are the lives we touch, the kindnesses we show, the generosity we demonstrate, the compassion we offer one another, and the changed lives that result when we help others experience God. The church is in the business of changing the world one life at a time.

So above all, let’s measure our churches by the quality of our love. After all, being life-giving and love-making is the purpose of every church-and every Christian.


Clayton M. Christensen, with James Allworth and Karen Dillon, How Will You Measure Your Life (Harper Business 2012).


The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector of Saint James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.




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