Everyone knew that Steve Jobs was terminally ill. Yet the concept of his death still eluded most of us. Steve’s vision and leadership was a mega-watt light that inspired, connected, and lifted us all. He made technology interesting, desirable, and accessible to everyone from 8-88 years old.
As revolutionary as his technology was, his life perspectives were just as powerful and transformative. I remember reading his 2005 Stanford commencement speech shortly after he delivered it. It was a particularly difficult time in my personal life, and his words about connecting the dots spoke directly to my soul and spirit.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. 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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
His words gave me the strength to have faith in my journey… to somehow know that through all the pain that we endure, we have the strength to survive what we face, and the resilience to recover. More than that though, one day we will be able to look back at our journey in more of a spectator’s role and say, “Ahhh…I get it now. I see the bigger picture. If this wouldn’t have happened, then I wouldn’t be here today, in this exact place.” The keyword is trust – that perhaps things won’t go exactly as you planned or hoped, but that’s OK, and you have to trust the journey. Wherever things go, you will be alright. You will endure, you will recover, and you will once again love, laugh, smile, and experience joy.
And sure enough, after enduring a period of about nine difficult personal years that included brushes with melanoma, breast cancer, unexpected deaths, and other excruciating painful challenges, I came out the other side. And that brings me to the next lesson I gleamed from Steve’s commencement address:
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… 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.
Through all of my struggles, I continued to build Information Experts. Through mourning, sadness, and recovery, I kept building. And as my personal clouds lifted, Information Experts continued to grow. For me, the act of building something meaningful that makes a difference to customers and creates jobs – a company, a community, a legacy – was a link to my sanity.
Finally, Steve’s last lesson from his commencement speech shaped my life by teaching me that we are all responsible for our own outcomes and our own happiness.
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.
It takes so much courage to claim our own happiness and follow our heart. It is so much easier to resign ourselves to a path that “should” be right and aligns with logic and society’s expectations of us. Ben Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, spoke at the 2011 World Business Forum on The Art of Possibility. “There are three possible responses to any situation: resignation, anger, or possibility,” he said. The easiest and most common path is resignation; the hardest is possibility.
Somehow, Steve made it look so easy to always take the path of possibility.
Steve’s blunt assessment of death occurred after he dodged a bullet several years ago:
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. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
It’s a bit unfathomable to think that Steve Jobs has been “cleared away.” We really aren’t ready for him to go yet… we aren’t ready to make way for the “new.” His creativity, innovation and ingenuity… his ability to make the seemingly impossible possible, his courage in testing boundaries of social technological acceptance, and his tenacious devotion to pushing the envelope further than the rest of us could ever envision has forever raised the bar on our understanding of human potential.
Every one of us, however, can raise our own personal bars and strive to seize our greatest potential through the lessons he gifted to us. Have faith in your journey, and trust that the dots will connect, even if you can’t see them connecting at this point in time. Love what you do; don’t settle for anything that doesn’t make you passionate. Finally, live the life you were meant to live by dismissing judgments, opinions, and criticisms. Have the courage and the self-love to follow your heart.
Rest in peace Steve.