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Monday, March 23, 2020

Review: How will you measure your life?

I picked up How Will You Measure Your Life expecting the usual business school professor memoir of self-congratulation and lots of business anecdotes. I was surprised to discover that it was a parenting book! Yes, there are business anecdotes and semi-case studies, but the majority of the book is about prioritization, namely how not to neglect the long term important stuff even though it's the short term stuff that provides positive feedback and reinforcement. For instance, I've definitely got friends who fit into this description:
For those of my classmates who inadvertently invested in lives of hollow unhappiness, I can’t help but believe that their troubles stemmed from incorrectly allocating resources. To a person, they were well-intended; they wanted to provide for their families and offer their children the best possible opportunities in life. But they somehow spent their resources on paths and byways that dead-ended in places that they had not imagined. They prioritized things that gave them immediate returns—such as a promotion, a raise, or a bonus—rather than the things that require long-term work, the things that you won’t see a return on for decades, like raising good children. And when those immediate returns were delivered, they used them to finance a high-flying lifestyle for themselves and their families: better cars, better houses, and better vacations. The problem is, lifestyle demands can quickly lock in place the personal resource allocation process. “I can’t devote less time to my job because I won’t get that promotion—and I need that promotion …” (Kindle Loc 880)
 And of course, I'm always surprised by the number of people who like to outsource important parenting functions:
One of the most common versions of this mistake that high-potential young professionals make is believing that investments in life can be sequenced. The logic is, for example, “I can invest in my career during the early years when our children are small and parenting isn’t as critical. When our children are a bit older and begin to be interested in things that adults are interested in, then I can lift my foot off my career accelerator. That’s when I’ll focus on my family.” Guess what. By that time the game is already over. An investment in a child needs to have been made long before then, to provide him with the tools he needs to survive life’s challenges—even earlier than you might realize. (Kindle loc 1101)
 There's wonderful insight even into why what we do never seem to satisfy our spouses:
We project what we want and assume that it’s also what our spouse wants. Scott probably wished he had helping hands to get through his tough day at work, so that’s what he offered Barbara when he got home. It’s so easy to mean well but get it wrong. A husband may be convinced that he is the selfless one, and also convinced that his wife is being self-centered because she doesn’t even notice everything he is giving her—and vice versa. This is exactly the interaction between the customers and the marketers of so many companies, too. Yes, we can do all kinds of things for our spouse, but if we are not focused on the jobs she most needs doing, we will reap frustration and confusion in our search for happiness in that relationship. (Kindle loc 1364)
 Much of the book's notes go from child development to self-esteem development, and discusses how certain business case studies (such as Dell outsourcing production of components and eventually the whole machine to Asus until Dell could no longer compete) apply to the raising of children.
in outsourcing much of the work that formerly filled our homes, we have created a void in our children’s lives that often gets filled with activities in which we are not involved. And as a result, when our children are ready to learn, it is often people whom we do not know or respect who are going to be there...if your children gain their priorities and values from other people … whose children are they? Yes, they are still your children—but you see what I’m getting at. The risk is not that every moment spent with another adult will be indelibly transferring inferior values. Nor is this about making the argument that you need to protect your children from the “big bad world”—that you must spend every waking moment with them. You shouldn’t. Balance is important, and there are valuable lessons your children will gain from facing the challenges that life will throw at them on their own. Rather, the point is that even if you’re doing it with the best of intentions, if you find yourself heading down a path of outsourcing more and more of your role as a parent, you will lose more and more of the precious opportunities to help your kids develop their values—which may be the most important capability of all. (Kindle Loc 1646-1654)
 The book encourages you to let your children fail and suffer the consequences early, rather than setting them up to become fragile successful kids by overcompensating for them:
The braver decision for parents may be to give that child a more difficult, but also more valuable, course in life. Allow the child to see the consequences of neglecting an important assignment. Either he will have to stay up late on his own to pull it off, or he will see what happens when he fails to complete it. And yes, that child might get a bad grade. That might be even more painful for the parent to witness than the child. But that child will likely not feel good about what he allowed to happen, which is the first lesson in the course on taking responsibility for yourself...Our default instincts are so often just to support our children in a difficult moment. But if our children don’t face difficult challenges, and sometimes fail along the way, they will not build the resilience they will need throughout their lives. People who hit their first significant career roadblock after years of nonstop achievement often fall apart. (Kindle loc 1855)
There's even a great section about hiring executives, describing a common mistake among startups, which is to hire managers who've successfully run big company organizations with lots of support, rather than hiring managers who've built organizations handson from a small base, even if the resulting organization wasn't as large as the more conventional manager.

I enjoyed the book, highlighting section after section, and thinking about the strong parenting advice in this book. Recommended.

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