I found myself strangely affected by the news that Steve Jobs was taking a leave of absence. I don’t know the guy. I just buy his stuff. We never found time for a personal chat during my brief stint as an Apple Store employee.
So why did the news make me so melancholy, even to this minute?
It might have something to do with the fact that it was his commencement speech at Stanford that planted the seed in my mind that life is beautifully and tragically ephemeral. I didn’t know what to do with that information at the time, but over the past few years, this mindset has really shifted me to strive to live a life of purpose.
It only occurs to me now that, just as he saw a vision of the future at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, he saw another 8 years ago with touch/gesture-based computing, and he’s been absolutely driven to see it take hold. It’s happening now, and it’s irreversibly changing the way people interact with computers. The iPad isn’t some gadget, it’s a puzzle piece in Jobs’s vision of literally altering the future of humanity.
Is it egotistical for him to believe that if he didn’t bring about these visions of computing, from personal, to graphical, to touch, that they would never have existed (or would have been horribly mangled)? Yes, definitely. Is it true? Almost assuredly.
When Jobs and Gates were asked about legacy a few years back, Steve brushed off the question. I thought it was odd, but I get it now.
The term “legacy” tends to be associated with the question, “How will I be remembered?” Alfred Nobel didn’t want to be known as a merchant of death, and he did indeed radically change his legacy. Bill Gates turned his focus 180 degrees, from taking money from rich Westerners to raising the standard of living for the world’s poorest 10%.
Steve Jobs has no time for that. For him, the idea of legacy is probably a distraction, because he goes into work every day with the intention of changing the world, not the way he’ll be talked about after he’s gone.
Jobs says that he once had to choose between an “important” business meeting and a date with the woman that would someday become his wife. His thought was that if it were his last day on earth, he’d choose seeing her. So he did.
What would I do if today were my last? Would I be doing the same things with my family? Is there enough of my own mission in my work that I’d still be there? If not, why? What am I going to do about it?
It’s important to note that Jobs doesn’t say “live each day like it’s your last.” He just poses the question and says that when he has too many consecutive days where he doesn’t like the answer, it’s time to change something.
If you haven’t watched his speech, please do. He implored those students (and by extension, me, and you) to not spend your days living someone else’s life, because there’s so precious little of our own.
I’m grateful for the lesson, and hopeful that Steve will recover fully and to continue to embody it.