For the last couple of days, posts about Steve Jobs, the tech pioneer and visionary co-founder of Apple Inc. and Pixar Studios, have been circling around the internet. On Wednesday, October 5, his death marked the end of his long battle with pancreatic cancer.
It’s expected, but it didn’t make a lot of people less sad. Everyone felt as if they’ve been orphaned…and if you look at it at one angle, it’s kind of true.
Apple.com dedicates its homepage to Steve Jobs
Truth be told—and I’m a tad ashamed to say this—there’s only a handful of things I know about the man. Just a couple of information I could find without actually looking up anything in the info superhighway: (1) his technological brainchildren contributed a lot to the modern world, like iPods, computers, etc. and that (2) he, like many world-renowned innovators, has a rags-to-riches success story. It’s not the best course, but the flurry of blog posts, obituaries, and tributes gave me an opportunity to know more about him.
All my life I’ve been hearing lots of tribute stories that call a recently deceased person as “someone who has changed the world.” I tell you now, after learning more about Steven Paul Jobs, I think he deserved to have that tag than most people.
Tumblr and a bunch of other sites are continually quoting a commencement address Jobs delivered back in 2005 at Stanford University. I haven't heard it before, so I watched it on Youtube. Like the young graduates who listened to him in person that day, as well as the million others who have heard of the speech through secondhand or third-hand sources, I was inspired…and it almost made me cry. Perhaps I’m being a little too dramatic, but I’m telling you the truth. His speech is comprised of three stories: (1) about “connecting the dots”, (2) about love and loss, and (3) about death.
Stanford University: Steve Jobs Commencement Speech 2005
Connecting the Dots
In the first part, Jobs shared his "origin" story and the ripples it produced throughout his life, particularly when he finally set foot on a tertiary school. His speech is practically quotable quotes galore, but I’ll post here a few that definitely struck a chord with me. Here's one:
“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.”
He shared bits of his being born out of wedlock, and how he was adopted by a couple who promised to send him to college when he grew up. He did go to college, but he “naively” opted to attend one with tuition fee that practically emptied the purses of his working-class parents. So he dropped out, and then dropped in subjects that interested him. He lived a not-so-romantic life back then (his words), feeding himself via deposits from coke bottles and curling up on the floor of his friend’s room because he had no dorm of his own. But the pin of his life’s compass is starting to seemingly point to the right direction, and this was prompted by the posters and designs adorning the walls of Reed College. He was fascinated by calligraphy, so he took up a subject about that.
For so many years it seemed like his interest in calligraphy wouldn’t give him any practical prize. But a decade later, his experience came in handy when they were designing the first Mac computer. Yes, the typography. If he hadn’t dropped out and took the class he wanted, he wouldn’t have given that herculean contribution to the world of computers.
I can relate so much to the young Steve. Right now, I’m doing something I want to do,something that seem to offer no aid in terms of practicality at the moment (I bet anyone who knows me personally would know what I’m talking about). People have been doubting, questioning, or just silently shaking their heads. But I think what really matters is that I’m happy doing it and that I have a passion for it. Sure, right now it doesn’t have an outlet that could actually extricate money to pay little things like the internet bill(!), but I believe soon it will. Bigger than that, even.
Perhaps this is what the young Steve felt before, and knowing that he did succeed, it made me so hopeful that I could also reach my own star. I couldn’t see the dots ahead even if I squint, but time will come and I could prove to myself that my choices and the events in their wake have their purpose. Only then could I look back and connect the dots.
Love and Loss
Just as Steve thought his success could only go notch after a higher notch, a glitch in the system popped out of nowhere. The next thing he knew, his life’s compass—so reliable in the past—went haywire, and everything was going downhill. Due to a falling out with his business partner, Steve got fired at the age of 30. Yes, by the very company he started building. If I were in his place back then, I wouldn’t know what to do; you could only believe him when he said it was devastating. And then this:
“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.”
He still loved what he did. This kind of epiphany could fill up one man’s drained canteen of hope, especially if it’s seen clearly. I’m technically still wet-behind-the ears, but I’ve had (and am still having) my own share of head-shakes, rejections, and unfulfilled expectations. But like Steve, I knew that I still love what I’m doing, even if it has clobbered me with pessimism and heartache before. Seeing that I have yet to travel a long way, I should be prepared for more falls. Getting up after the fall may be hard, but as long as I know what it is that I’m holding to—as long as I know what I love—I can stand up and begin anew.
“It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. 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.”And that quote above is the perfect touchstone for my life right now, thank you very much.
Steve was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, but even before that, he made it a point to live his every day as if it would be his last. The no-secret fact that we’re all going to die became his fuel, and as a result he began making big choices—choices that, as we’ve witnessed, actually changed the world.
The idea reminded me of a quote I’ve heard before from a TV series: “Death is a gift given at birth.” I didn’t understand it the first time I heard it (I was about 9 when I watched the show), but growing up, I learned the long answer bit by bit. The condensed edition of it? Here’s Steve's accurate quote:
“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….
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.
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.”
I was close to tearing up when he was speaking this part. His true genius doesn’t only lie in being one of the major architects our modern world as we know it; it’s also present in the inspiration he gave people while doing the job he loved. Come to think of it, he’s still continuing to inspire even if he’s not around anymore (I’d like to present myself as a living proof). This is why he’s already an immortal icon even before he shuffled off the mortal coil.
For the closing, he spoke the farewell message printed at the back of The Whole Earth Catalogue’s final issue: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
I would follow that from now on. I’d stay hungry for more experiences and lessons; as long as there’s a space in me that waits to be filled, I wouldn’t hesitate to move. There’s an adage about being easily satisfied, but being too comfortable would be detrimental to learning and improving, which is human beings’ never-ending lesson in life. And I’d stay foolish, because believing I already knew a lot would just deter me from absorbing the things I’d really need. I still have a long way to go.
To end this post, I put here the video from Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, narrated by Steve Jobs himself. In many ways it’s connected to the two-sentence motto I just mentioned. Here it is, along with the transcript:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Losing you, indeed, was very much akin to being robbed. Half a decade and six years was still too short, we know you could still give a lot to the world! More gizmos and gadgets, more stories to inspire more generations. But it all has to end, hasn't it? I offer a little prayer for your soul. Rest in peace, Mr. Steve Jobs. As lots of other netizens have said (and excuse me for the bad pun) you really did a great Job(s).