Last night, I wept for a man I never met. I wept for his family, his friends, and for the world. As some of you may or may not know, Steve Jobs, the former CEO & co-founder of Apple, passed away yesterday. Something that not many of you did not know, but are probably not surprised to learn, is that Steve Jobs was one of my heroes. It actually really doesn’t have anything to do with Apple. I watched his commencement at Stanford University in 2005 on YouTube shortly after he gave it, and it was then that he became my hero. So here are some of the things that I admire most about him, complete with the things he said that led me to that admiration.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make all the difference.
To start, he never graduated college! He went for a short time, then dropped out. But this allowed him to take the classes he wanted, instead of this that they required. He chose a calligraphy class. To nerds like Steve Jobs and I, this is understandable. There is a beauty to the curvature and spacing of letters (surprising that I understand this, given how awful my handwriting is). Let’s be honest though, most people look at that and say “but where is the practical use?”. And one of the things that I admired about Steve Jobs, is that he put pieces together that often don’t seem to go together. When he was designing the first Macintosh, he put that knowledge to use in a way that no one had, and probably never would have, and that was the first computer to have truly beautiful typography. He always found a way to connect the dots.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
For those of you who know me, I am a deeply passionate person. I’ve known for a good chunk of my short 23 years that I would never be able to really work a job that I wasn’t passionate about. Sometimes I felt like I was being ridiculous, because I would refuse to work a job I didn’t enjoy. And those ones that I did, I was only able to do them because they would allow me to do the things that I was passionate about. Steve Jobs understood that, and when I heard him say that late one night while I was up, unable to sleep, I felt like he was talking to me, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so weird and picky. Always pursue your passions. Don’t settle.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Shortly after watching this, my director at Gettysburg Master’s Commission gave us a talk about already being dead (complete with an old civil war style bullet and the episode of Band of Brothers where they talk about being dead already). You see, when you view yourself as alive, you have something to lose. When you are already dead, you have nothing to lose, and you can pursue your dreams with nothing holding you back. Steve continues on with this quote, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.”
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
One of the last, yet greatest, things that made made Steve Jobs my hero was that he didn’t care what or how it had been done before. He had what I call a “reverent disregard for tradition”. He would look at an objective in it’s simplest form, and say, “the way it’s been done before isn’t the best, let’s go back to that very core objective, and rebuild it again, better.” And that is something I strive to do in my personal and professional life. Whether they are security protocols, the flow of a service or event, or talking through an issue with a friend, I strive to have a reverent disregard for tradition: acknowledge the old way it had it’s place, then throw it out, and start with the base objective. This kind of approach often is met with push back (anyone remember when Apple stopped putting floppy drives in their machines? Now look, you can’t find a new computer with one…) but if you really break it down to it’s base and rebuild it better, then people will love it, once they get used to it (people hate change).
Last night, I wept for a man I had never met. I wept tears of sorrow at his passing and our loss. I wept tears of joy for the life he lived, and the inspiration he gave me. Steve Jobs was a man of vision. And for a visionary, there no greater reward than seeing your dream come to life. I think this quote sums it up very well,
“The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.” —President Obama on the passing of Steve Jobs
Stay hungry. Stay foolish.