Know Your Life Metrics


In both work and life, there are few things worse than having the wrong metrics.

Let me explain.

Most people think metrics are similar to spreadsheets or staplers—part of the office setting that nebulously help it be successful.

But metrics are more than that. I’m arguing here that they deserve your ultimate attention, both in your life and in your business.

Let’s do business first. Let’s say you’re trying to sell wingdings, and you read this book about sales a couple of years ago that said advertising is key. So you put an add in the local newspaper that asked people to come to some part of your website.

You then started monitoring for views on that site, and started tasking your company with getting better results from the paper. You make the ad bigger. You add color. You change the copy.

You get a bump from these changes, but nothing significant, and today you’re having trouble making a profit because another company is selling all the wingdings. Turns out they weren’t using the local paper.

Actually, it also turns out they weren’t even focusing much on ads at all. They were heads-down on making a better product. So what happened was you spent all your talent and energy focusing on a goal that wouldn’t help you even if you achieved it.

This is why metrics should move from the bottom of your priorities to the top. There are few things worse than realizing too late than you were working on the wrong things.

Let’s take this to the more critical arena of your success in life.

I propose that most people are unhappy in the United States because they’re using a bad metrics program, much like this business that thought it was all about circulation in the local newspaper.

Here are some bad metrics:

  • Sleeping with the most girls

  • Having the nicest car

  • Having kids who land the nicest jobs

  • Making the most money

  • Marrying the richest man

  • Having the most people like your selfies on Facebook

  • Sending your kids to the nicest colleges

Some of these metrics are made even worse in that they are implicit rather than explicit. Most don’t know they’re using these local paper options as benchmarks for success. They go through life by vaguely mimicking the metrics handed to them by others, but without even naming them explicitly.

Here are some (slightly) better metrics:

  • Be respected at work

  • Don’t change jobs often

  • Be considered upstanding in your neighborhood

  • Have a decent, traditional family

  • Raise kids that finish college and get good corporate jobs

  • Have a decent retirement

The problem with these metrics, in my opinion, is that they orient one toward mediocrity. Pursuing these as ultimate goals in life isn’t even trying for par: it’s more like trying not to drive your cart into a water trap.

Well done, Jake: you’ve avoided the dumbest possible thing. Way to set the standard.

What am I using to make these judgments? Well, my own preferences, first of all. That must be clear from the outset. But what I’m arguing is that many are likely to agree with me once they illuminate their own implicit choices.

My standard is one of retrospect as a 138-year-old person who is about to die. I’m evaluating in terms of what I accomplished looking back. Those are my metrics. So let’s think about some better ones (again, in my opinion).

  • People feel better about themselves around me

  • People are better off for knowing me

  • People are happier when I’m around

  • I have improved people’s lives

  • I have helped people better understand the world

  • Be known for doing those things by history (shallow but honest), i.e., create permanent work that helps the goals above

The only way I know how to make that list is to imagine it for myself, which I just did. I’m not proud of the last one, but I think it makes the others more tangible to have a primal and selfish drive included that facilitates the others.

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One of the primary things I try to avoid in my metrics is the neglecting of world-class goals due to the encroachment of local and small-world goals. If I want to write the best books in the world on the most important topics for humans, then that’s my standard. I should not be overly pleased with myself for creating a book about packet analysis, for example.

And if I am on some kick about a new BMW or a new web server, I should temper that enthusiasm with simple questions:

  1. How is this helping me improve the world?

  2. How is this helping me make others happier?

This doesn’t mean I can’t have fun and indulge my male and human form. But I do so under the scrutinous gaze of my future self who demands I spend my time wisely.

What metrics really are

My point here is that metrics should not be considered a detail. They should be decided upon and evaluated with maximums of effort and care, on a regular cadence.

This is true because metrics are literally the way in which you ensure you’re working on the right things, and that you’re doing so effectively.

What are your metrics?

Let’s turn to you.

What are your metrics in life?

First, do you know what they are? Second, do they meet your own 138-year-old-self-waiting-to-die standard?

Would you be proud of what you’re currently pursuing? Would you wish you had written books, or made movies, or danced professionally, or spent 10 years in Europe, or been nicer to your friends? Or to strangers?

Whatever that future self wishes you would have done instead of what you’re doing—those are your metrics. And I submit that naming, pursuing, and tracking them explicitly will greatly improve your happiness.


  1. I don’t think “scrutinous” is a word, but it should be, so I used it.

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