13 Feb 2009

3 Life Lessons

Yesterday I found a link to the text version of Steve Jobs’ commencement address to the Stanford class of 2005. I highly recommend reading the full address, it has some really great insights to life and why we live it. I thought I’d share some of the more notable pieces from the address.

1. Connecting the Dots

Jobs describes the process of dropping-out of college, then dropping-in to take the classes he was interested in. He took a Calligraphy class on a whim, which taught him all about the beauty of Typography, which he later used to incorporate into the world’s first PC, the Macintosh.

But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, 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.

I find Steve’s advice brilliant here. This is a style of living that I have tried very hard to follow for the majority of my life, especially over the last 4 or 5 years. Do your homework, trust in God, and ultimately, follow your heart. I have been amazed time and again how the dots connect in a phenomenal way as I look back on the decisions I have made throughout my life.

2. Love and Loss

After building Apple into a successful $2 Billion company, Jobs was forced to leave due to conflicts within the company. At first he was stricken with the loss of completing his dreams, but soon came to realize that he still was passionate about the computer industry. During this time he met and married the love of his life, went on to found NeXT and Pixar, and was eventually brought back to run Apple when they acquired NeXT. Since then, he has been regarded as a business and technology icon to look toward for inspiration.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. 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.

3. Death

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, 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 a 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.

[…] 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.

Brother Steve, Amen.