Book: How Will You Measure Your Life?

While FAKEGRIMLOCK and all of the humans he has let survive are hanging out at the TechStars SXSW party, I’m at home with Amy, buried in a snowstorm, reading. I haven’t read much this year – I’ve been overwhelmed with work and writing and haven’t had much energy for reading. Which is dumb, since I love to read, and it’s an important way I discover new things and think about things I’m interested in.

A copy of Clay Christensen’s new book How Will You Measure Your Life? ended up finding its way to me. It’s signed by Clay and his co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon so I assume someone sent it to me. I read it tonight. It was timely and excellent.

One of the chapters in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that was especially challenging for me and Amy to write was the one about children. We don’t have any, so we enlisted a bunch of friends to write sections of it. I’m proud of what they wrote and think it hits the mark, but it is an area I struggle to understand since we made a deliberate decision not to have kids. So I dug into the middle section of the book where Clay spends a lot of time talking about children in the context of measuring one’s life. I learned a lot from it that I think I can apply to my interaction with children that are not my own.

Clay very deftly uses business concepts to set the stage for a deep discussion of how to think about your life, your values, and how you operate. The one I liked the most was his discussion of the theory of good and bad capital. It’s very nicely linked to the Lean Startup methodology (without realizing it). The theory is that early in their life, companies should be patient for growth but impatient for profit. Specifically, they should search for their business model, and long term strategy, before stepping on the gas. This is good capital. Bad capital early on will be impatient for growth ahead of profit.

When companies accelerate (search for growth) too early, they often drive right over a cliff. However, once the business model and strategy is figured out, then companies should switch modes to be impatient for growth but patient for profit. Invest like crazy when you’ve got it figured out.

The section that follows is awesome. You need to read it to get it, but imagine the notion of how you invest in friendships, in your children, and in yourself. At any particular time are you focused on growth or profit? Do you have them sequenced and allocated correctly? Clay’s punch line is:

“There are two forces that will be constantly working against [your investments in relationships with family and close friends.] First, you’ll be routinely tempted to invest your resources elsewhere – in things that will provide you with a more immediate payoff. And second, your family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand your attention… If you don’t nurture and develop these relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life.”

I’ve just had one of those stretches – I spent the past three months struggling with depression after having a bike accident, wearing myself out travelling for two months, and then ending up in the hospital to have surgery to remove a kidney stone. I’d made the right investments in my relationships so it was easy to cash in on a bunch of them, and I appreciate greatly everyone who invested energy and support in me. I came out of the depression around February 14th and I appreciate more than ever the value of investing in these relationships. I now have a powerful business analogy – that of good and bad capital.

There’s a lot more in How Will You Measure Your Life? It’s a great companion to Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur and very easy to recommend to anyone who is trying to live the best life they can.


  • Sounds like a great book. Think I’m gonna order it today:-)

  • Eric

    How I measure my life:
    1. Helping my kids chase their dreams
    2. Helping my team chase our company dream
    3. Helping others chase their dreams

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  • A few years ago, when a security guard at my kids’ school thought he saw a student with a machine gun, the school went into lockdown while SWAT teams assembled behind my house and helicopters circled above for nine long hours. But the first indication that something was wrong was when I received two texts within seconds – one from my son and one from my daughter – that both just said, “Mom, I love you.” I measure a lot of my life by that moment – whether I am building the kinds of relationships that are deep enough that in a time of crisis, it overrides the difficulties of that moment. That day was a serious reminder that ten years from now no one will remember if I networked enough. They will remember if I was there to talk through a problem or to lend help when it is needed – whether at work or with family or friends.

  • Stephen Covey’s analogy of emotional bank accounts works really well here. 🙂


  • Through it all, if you nurture relationships with family and friends they will stick by you. I know from experience. Best advice I can give someone about getting married: Marry your best friend. The decisions about having children etc are a lot easier then. (and I don’t blame Brad for not having kids. It’s the ultimate commitment and if you aren’t prepared you shouldn’t do it-although raising them is a lot like helping a startup!)

    • Well said. Amy is my best friend. We were friends long before we became a couple, and even in our worst moments, we are still best friends!

  • Jeffrey Hartmann

    I’m very glad to hear that you have come out of your depression Brad, I know from personal experience that it can be a rough road. I find that the time right after you break from a depressive episode to be a really exciting time. The flowers (or icicles in your case) smell sweet and the endless possibilities of what we can accomplish really hits home. These are definitely interesting and exciting times we live in, and its awesome to be in the state of mind to really put that in the right perspective.

    The good and bad capital analogy is a really powerful one when it comes to being in a relationship with kids. My son and I read together most every night near the end of the day, and we have had some exciting adventures together with Percy Jackson, the BFG, Aslan and Bilbo the hobbit. We also love to talk math together, and when he was in kindergarten (he is in 1st grade now) we started learning our multiplication tables. These investments and his inquisitiveness pay dividends every day, I love discussing concepts with him and we give each other 20+ second hugs all during the day so we can have our Oxytocin spikes. I don’t expect him to solve differential equations or write books yet though, and am forever patient and try and be helpful. Begin patient and laying that foundation is super important. We also must never forget to still be who we are and do things we enjoy.

    Have a good day snuggling in the snow storm Brad.


    • Thx Jeff. You will love Clay’s book – it sounds like you’ve got a big part of the dynamic with your son figured out. It sounds magnificent and similar to how my dad and I interacted when I was your son’s age. My dad is still my best friend.

      • Jeffrey Hartmann

        I just bought it on Amazon, I’ll check it out. I finished Startup Life and just moved on to a book someone gave to me as a gift called “Be Excellent at Anything” by Tony Schwartz. I’m not super far into it yet, but I really like it so far. I’ll check out Clay’s book next.

  • Alwex

    How I measure my life? Good question.

  • Mike Mueller

    Brad, as a “middle-aged” entrepreneur who started his journey with 3 kids (via a blended family), what you say really hits home. I’ve struggled to help grow Bourbon & Boots while maintaining a balance at home. It hasn’t been easy of late. I have felt depleted, disconnected, and depressed, at times. My investment in the company is paying off nicely, but at home it is suffering. It takes so much energy to raise kids–especially when not all of them are your own. They demand an extra investment. (Even as I’m writing this, the older boy–my own–is fighting with his step-sister) Good times!

    I struggle with making and sticking to boundaries. I’m going to the beach in a week and I’ve made a commitment to work for only a few hours of day, and when not…putting my phone away. No checking email. I’m going to work on being present–really present with the family so they’ll continue to shore me up when I need them most.

    Thanks to you and Amy for writing Start Up Life, by the way. I really appreciate the honesty with which you approach all aspect of your relationship. It should be required reading for all entrepreneurs as they start their journey. It’s easy to fall in the trap into thinking what matter most is your company, but it’s not. It’s the people that see you at your worst, and love you in spite of it all.


    • Well said. One suggestion on your trip – when you “put your phone away”, actually turn it off and give it to your partner. When you want it back, you have to ask for it.

      I find that doing that with Amy has two amazing impacts.

      1. She feels involved in my choice to work when we are on vacation. It’s deliberate. It doesn’t make her angry or feel neglected since she’s part of the decision.

      2. I rarely ask for my phone. I simply don’t want to work when I’m on vacation. I don’t really care what’s going on after a few days – i just want to be with her.

      • Mike Mueller

        Excellent advice. I’ll try that. M

  • TomNastas

    Brad, this is one of your most simple yet insightful posts, as it shows your vulnerability and sincerity that life is more than a balance sheet of financial assets. Investors frequently put on a mask to show how knowledgeable and powerful we are since our pocketbooks control the purse strings of entrepreneurs; yet without them, we are nothing. Your comments demonstrate that (some) investors can invest and see the much bigger and meaningful picture.

    For me after living and investing overseas for the last 25 years, Olga & I are moving to the USA in April and it’s time for me (and her) to deepen relationships, build and re-build the lasting relationships which you speak about, with a dying mother, brothers, sisters, old and new acquaintances, in and outside of making a buck.

    Thanks for the words of simplicity and insight how to live one’s life, brilliant (in my book).

    Tom Nastas

    • Thanks Tom. Welcome back to the USA – looking forward to spending more time with you.

  • Andrea

    Even though I am not even remotely close to your success and achievements in life (and therefore the lack of investment in my family is even less justified), I am currently
    facing this situation. My husband asked me to please come back to him and the
    kids. I feel he is completely right, not only because he is asking for it, but
    because I am not being effective or feeling happy.

  • Great book, I like the thinking around “what job did your customers hire your product to do?”. and how he ties it all together with “purpose” in the Epilogue.

  • Brad, a friend in the startup space sent this link through to me. I’m truly glad you enjoyed the book and it’s also great to hear that you’re feeling better.

    I’ll keep an eye on the this thread — if you or any of the commenters on the blog have any questions about it that I can help with, I’ll do my best to get to them!


    — james

    • Thanks James. And more importantly, thanks for putting all the effort into the book!

  • For those interested, here’s Christensen’s HBR article that preluded the book:

  • Jeff Brandt

    Great book, I have read several of his books. Good pprospective

  • sanjay kumar

    this is good post i like this post .

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  • Thanks for this insight, Brad. It may be obvious, but for the younger among us, this advice applies just as directly when you are the “child”. With work intensity and a major side project, it’s been easy to put off spending time with my parents, even though I’ve moved from 10 hours away to less than 1. The explanation of “more immediate returns” is dead on – as you (often unconsciously) treat close relationships as constants.

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  • John Donovan

    Just read this post after reading your latest post on depression. First of all, your blogs / youtube videos have many direct takeaways for me as a young, crazy-busy entrepreneur, especially topics regarding work/life balance. I’ve spent over 3 years not even realizing that there could be a balance as entrepreneur, haha. And I bet I am not the only person out there like that. Wish I would have started reading your stuff earlier. Anyway, I am sure others are benefiting from these topics, so its definitely time well spent. Thanks and keep’em coming.