I don't want to go to jail: Our actions and time management affect our intended goals

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 3:20 p.m. MST


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Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Alan’s weekly Forbes column.

None of us would would want to be incarcerated. Nor would we willingly choose to lose a marriage, lose our health or lose our valuable relationships with children, extended family and chosen and valuable friends. Are our actions taking us closer or further away from our intended goals?

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen in Salt Lake City, as he discussed his newest book, "How Will You Measure Your Life?" I was anxious to hear his remarks, having just finished reading this amazing publication.

There were elements of his presentation and the concepts in his book that stopped me in my tracks. He spoke of his Harvard graduating class, full of life, energy and promise. He spoke of the fact that no one in that group of talented individuals had left business school with any desire to face an outcome such as going through a divorce, being unknown and despised by their children or going to jail. Yet as the class reconvened five years later — then in 10 years, 20 years and now these 30 years later — negative outcomes had occurred for a surprising number of graduates. In fact, one of his classmates, a highly known national executive, is now in jail for his role in a widely publicized corporate scandal.

With surprise and sadness, Christensen has also recognized that there are many other skilled executives and talented employees, far beyond his own Harvard classmates, who are living in hellish nightmares today as well. They too are facing the very outcomes they had so fervently vowed to avoid. What’s happening in corporate America?

Somehow over time, these dedicated workers have embraced money, power and glory over honor, wife and family. Those who had been taught to develop thoughtful business strategies for economic success had failed to also build a strategy for personal happiness and enduring fulfillment.

I agreed with every view Christensen espoused, but recognized that I too was not in full compliance with his message to American businesspeople. Subsequently, with this book in mind, my wife and I recently spent an evening together to discuss our use of time. Regretfully, we both agreed we are not spending enough time with each other to nurture and deepen our marital relationship.

We agreed that our heavy commitments to community, church, extended family issues and employment assignments have limited our time with each other. We both laughed and cried at the truth of our situation. Even our weekends, we agreed, are deplorable in terms of their statement on what we value, as evidenced by the use of our time. We asked, are we important to one another? Is charitable work or venture capital more valuable than our commitments to each other? Where on our scale of tasks does our marriage rank? Is it our highest priority or is it buried somewhere out of view?

When we are born, our mortal clocks begin to tick. None of us knows how much time we will have before this earthly life comes to an end. Some of us have quick exits, others endure for a season, while a few celebrate a century of life.

Our time here is perishable. Once a minute has past, we can’t retrieve it for another day. It’s gone forever. As each day passes, our pool of available time continues to diminish.

What then should we do with the time that has been granted to us? In my mind, we should maximize to the fullest every waking hour on what matters the most. A poem by Robert B. Baird written over a hundred years ago summarizes nicely the concept of time:

Improve the shining moments, don’t let them pass you by.

Work while the sun is radiant, work, for the night draws nigh.

We cannot bid the sunbeams to lengthen out their stay,

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