Friday, October 7, 2011

In Search of...words to live by from a dying man

Much has been said and written about Steve Jobs since he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer a couple of days ago. Not one word of it was bad, which I think says something greater about the man than even his accomplishments. Yes, he was the poster boy for the American dream at its finest, but he'd be the first to tell you that his setbacks were what led to his success.

In a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University, this college drop-out had enough clarity to reflect on some of the wisdom he gained from his journey until that point:

"You can't connect the dots looking forward," he said. "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."

This kind of talk leads me to believe that life is a lot more of an adventure than I've considered it to be. Maybe we walk forward in complete darkness, with only our gut and our wits to guide us, not knowing how anything makes sense until we complete all, if not part, of the journey. Maybe instinct and heart are the better treasure trove to draw wisdom from than commonly accepted ideas and practices which are prone to change from day to day. Perhaps staying connected to that which is larger than ourselves is the only consistent thing we need. But back to Steve's speech and him getting fired from the company he created...

"I was a very public failure and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me - I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

...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 matter 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."

The thing that strikes me about this is not that I haven't heard these variations on a theme of "do what you love" for many years, but rather that his love of what he was doing superseded any idea that his failures were about him. Maybe women just take public rejection more personally than men. I don't know, but I do know that the reason he could move on so effectively was that he didn't take it personally. I could be wrong about that, but I don't think his inner dialogue included phrases like "I'm such a loser" or "I don't deserve to be successful." And so I find his outlook to be the greatest aspect of what he had to teach us.

"...for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in row, I know I need to change something.

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.

(on being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer)...This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful, but purely intellectual concept.

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...

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...

...Stay hungry. Stay foolish...I have always wished that for myself. And now...I wish that for you."

Whatever your day brings you today, whatever path you choose in this moment, I wish you the profound knowing that life is finite and time is precious. I know when I'm writing that I am loving what I do. So thank you for reading and for sharing in this time with me.

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