When Apple co-founder and technology genius Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday, October 5, the world responded via the devices he imagined and created. I’ve already written about his passing, but my thoughts are still resting on the life and too-soon death of Jobs. Why has his story impacted so many of us so much? In the end, what I’m left with is that while Jobs was certainly a creative visionary in his field, he also seemed to possess a vision for what makes for a good life. To keep pushing, forcing every ounce of possibility into fruition.
His now infamous commencement address at Stanford University indicates that Jobs has always had a keen grasp on the finite nature of this lifetime, and so he made every effort in both his professional and personal life to be certain his time here had a residual effect.
In that address to the newly graduated, Jobs admonished, “… 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.”
Who does that? Who acknowledges on a regular basis that his time may be winding down and doesn’t respond by turning down a dismal self-absorbed spiral? It’s as if somewhere deep in his gut, Jobs knew he wouldn’t get a lot of time to do finish everything. Proving that point, we now know he left plans behind for a new “spaceship-like” Apple headquarters building he would never enter and, according to the U.K. Daily Mail, there are “at least four years worth” of new and updated Apple products “in the pipeline.” So, the gift of Jobs will just keep on giving.
And while his bout and battle with pancreatic cancer ultimately claimed his life, I’m guessing his disease probably made him an even better husband, father, leader, and creator in the end. No, Jobs was not in any way lucky to struggle with cancer, but there is something to be said for deep pain that can spur us on to even greater life–in Jobs’ case, even in the face of his death.
As someone who’s struggled with autoimmune disease for years now, I’ve learned the hard way that pain is a wake-up call. It’s a harsh slap in the face that our days are numbered, and nothing we can do can ultimately change our allotment. Pain like that can be frightening and debilitating. It can keep you from actually living out the days you have been given, unless you can manage to see something on the other side of it. Unless you can learn to lean into that pain and fear and find something more than yourself and much, much bigger than your sickness. I think that’s why Jobs’ death, and now the story of his life, are rattling me so. I am in no way saying my lot is as bad as his, but this is where I find him most inspiring: not in all he’s created, but in his pain and in his struggle and in his humanity.
Jobs told those Stanford kids, “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.”
Yes, I celebrate the genius of Jobs, but I also celebrate his humanity. May we all live life so fully and so fully follow our own hearts.
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