Yesterday seems so surreal.
Surreal as when you suddenly realize that you’re a radically different person now than you were years ago, and you can’t quite fully remember exactly how things were back then. Surreal as in the world was, just yesterday, a very different place. When the day started, Steve Jobs was alive, the internet was still buzzing with chit-chat about what the new iPhone 4S has and doesn’t have, and most of us went on about our days in more or less the same ways we’ve done everyday, for as long as we can remember.
Perhaps you woke up to your iPhone’s alarm clock. Got up, maybe exercised, ate breakfast, got the kids ready for school. Maybe you checked your email on your Macbook or iPad, or used your iPhone again to log into your bank and transfer some funds, and then start your day stressed out about money.
Or maybe you’re a social media junkie, and so you logged into Facebook, or twitter, or Google+, or all of them using some iDevice.
Whatever it was that you did yesterday, it is very likely that at some point you did it using technology or software that originated at Apple Inc. and Steve Jobs’ brilliant mind.
Yes, yesterday the world was different. Today, Steve is dead.
President Obama said in his remarks about Steve Jobs that “there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented”.
I disagree with the President though. That is not the greatest tribute to Steve’s success. That’s not his legacy to me.
From a technology standpoint I think President Obama’s remark speaks to Steve’s (and Apple’s) ability to dream up, create and market revolutionary products that despite changing “everything”, were so simple and intuitive that they quickly became part of our daily lives. His innovations are, to most of us, indispensable and ubiquitous. Do you ever stop to think that transferring funds using your phone was impossible just a few years ago? Or for that matter, any of the thousands of things we do with our iPhones on a daily basis.
But to me, Steve Job’s legacy has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with humanity.
I would have never thought this, but Steve’s premature death affected me on a very personal level. So this, is a very personal blog post, one that frankly I’m very unsure of whether it belongs here at all. But ultimately, I felt compelled. So here it goes.
My surreal yesterday
It started with taking my 5 year old son to kindergarden, where just the day before he had spent the $1 I gave him on a pocket sized notepad so he could practice his letters and his drawing, instead of spending it on junk food at the vending machine. He also got 100% on his math test that day. I remember feeling extremely proud of my boy.
From there, I took my wife and 3 year old son to the airport, where they boarded a flight to Venezuela to visit her father, who is scheduled for surgery today. I remember feeling sad about their departure, and extremely anxious about what her dad, and whole family are going through right now.
Then I returned to my office and proceeded with my day: working on my upcoming apps, writing for the blog, thinking hard about an unexpected opportunity that I don’t know what to do about, a bit of social media, a bit of management minutia and a bit of strategizing. I remember feeling extremely excited about what I’m doing. Focused at some points, and distracted at others. Determined to keep going, and yet scared and anxious as well.
Another typical day at the office…
Then, at about 11:00 p.m., after doing my daddy stuff, my wife calls me from Venezuela to check in. I answer her call on my iPhone, and among the many things we talked about, she dropped the news: “By the way, Steve Jobs is dead”.
What? When did this happen? I didn’t hear anything! WTF? Is it true?
I grabbed my Macbook Pro, hit Twitter, Google, Apple.com… Shit. It’s true.
Again. Fucking cancer…
Just a day after watching his “succession plan” in action in the form of Tim Cook taking the stage for a major product release, Steve Jobs died. Surreal.
I had a lot on my mind yesterday, as all of us usually do. After learning the news, I spent a good hour or so online taking in the world’s reaction to Steve’s death, watching some amazing videos of Steve, “listening” on Twitter, learning things about him that frankly I was shocked I didn’t know.
I remember the cynical part of my brain kicked in. I’ll admit to thinking of a couple of blogs that would try to capitalize on Steve’s death by writing an avalanche of blog posts re-hashing the same ol’ info available on his Wikipedia page. You can bet a Steve Jobs infographic is being cooked up somewhere with great haste.
I also thought: Twitter will be flooded with “Jobisms”. You know, inspiring and thought provoking quotes and tidbits said by Steve himself. For many, this a way to grieve and honor an extraordinary man. For others, well, you know… and somehow, despite the distance and coldness of the 1′s and 0′s these messages are composed of, our guts can sense who is being sincere, and who is being self-serving. Or so we tell ourselves, to justify our passing judgement on others.
My cynical downward spiral continued… I thought surely Keneth Cole, or some other unscrupulous company will probably go as far as using this awful tragedy for marketing and financial gain.
I did. I thought these things. And I’m not proud of it.
My cynical side is admittedly not my best. And indeed, some of these things “cynical Beny” thought actually began to happen. And so yesterday I went to bed convinced that I wouldn’t write anything on Steve Jobs.
Today, I realize I was simply afraid. I didn’t want to be judged as I was judging others. Today, as I write this, I’m still afraid. But I’m moving ahead with it anyways.
I’m doing so because aside from the profound sadness and disbelief I was feeling yesterday, Steve Jobs has been very inspiring to me for a lot of my life. There were several things I saw last night online that really struck a nerve with me. But this video of Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University really spoke to me. It’s powerful, and I can’t believe I had never watched it before.
It caused me to deeply reflect on some aspects of my life, and how I want to move forward. Maybe some of them will ring home for you too….
What’s done is done. What has happened, happened. Your past need not define you.
While watching the video I mentioned above, I was shocked that I didn’t know this: Steve was given up for adoption as a baby, simply because his biological mom wanted a baby girl.
Steve was not defined by this sad beginning, or any other challenge and obstacle that he encountered.
So many of us carry our pasts with us everyday. We let it stop us from going after our dreams. We hold back, retreat to our comfort zones, and in a lot of cases, achieve none of the big dreams we have for ourselves.
Some people, like Jobs, have the ability to leave the past were it belongs, in the past. For most of us though, this is a constant struggle. Something we must raise our awareness of, and work on pretty much every day.
The only certain future is death
Maybe Steve had an extraordinary ability to leave the past behind, and maybe he didn’t. Perhaps he was just like you and I, and what he had instead was a way to remind himself daily of what is truly important. In his own words: “remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to loose”.
For him this was a liberating thought. A way to move past the fear, doubt and regret and focus on what was important to him: doing the work he loved.
Find the right motivation
Steve was motivated by a lot of things: an awareness of the frailty of life, a love and passion for creating great products and software, a drive to affect people’s lives in a positive way. Money as it turns out was not one of his motivations. He had no desire to be the “richest man in the cemetery”.
Thinking of your life, your business, your products in the context of how they impact the lives of others almost certainly will give you insight, and motivation to keep rolling up your sleeves everyday. To keep improving and making a difference.
Staying hungry, staying foolish
Most of us have at least a little bit of one of these two ingredients. Some of us are “hungry” but not “foolish”. Others, the other way around. But it only seems to work if you have both.
It’s the “foolish” part that I feel most of us struggle with. Your big dreams, your ideas, your goals and aspirations, they come from being “hungry”. Taking action to make those a reality comes from being “foolish”.
We struggle with being “foolish” partly because of all that we’ve been taught, told or experienced in our lives. You may think that being foolish equates to being irresponsible, childish. Maybe you think being foolish means taking risks, getting hurt, failing.
But the thing is, when you’re foolish, risks don’t seem so scary and failures don’t sting so much, if at all. When you’re foolish, and hungry, you go after what you want with relentless focus and persistence.
I find this pursuit particularly powerful because I believe it not only affects my life and my work, but also that of my children. Because every child is both hungry and foolish. I see it in my children and every other child I can think of.
My children, and all children I can think of, are naturally brilliant, curious, talented, energetic and passionate in their own individual ways. On the flip side, they are almost never satisfied. They are relentless and persistent when they want something. They can be stubborn indeed, and careless. Sometimes, they are complete egomaniacs. Sound familiar? Does this describe your children? Steve Jobs?
Naturally, some of these traits clash immensely with us as parents. They demand a great deal of attention, energy and effort on our parts. But in this increasingly “post-corporate” world, they are very important, if not indispensable qualities for an entrepreneur to have.
In our children, I think we tend to nurture and encourage those qualities we consider valuable, and tame those that are just as natural but perhaps “inconvenient” for us as parents, or deemed as “undesirable”. We water down our children and then wonder why they struggle in life as adults. Instead, we must find ways to empower them as they are, so they grow up confident, yet still foolish enough to go after anything they set their minds to.
It can be the same as today. Or you can move toward what you really want. In the video, Steve also spoke of facing uncertainty: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards”.
If you’ve got great ideas and have let fear, doubt and noise paralyze you, know (to paraphrase Steve) that you’ve got nothing to loose, sooner or later you will die. The reality and tragedy of it is that your passing may come way sooner than you think.
If you’re inspired by the life and achievements of an exceptional man, know that he was just also “just a man”, with many of the same feelings, fears, challenges and obstacles you’ve encountered in your life. Perhaps just yesterday.
Today, get started. Today, keep going if you already took the first steps.
Seek to “make a ding in the universe”.
Don’t do it for Steve, or because of him. Don’t do it for anybody else for that matter.
Do it because you can. Because it will make you happy and inevitably change people’s lives.
(Image credit: Jonathan Mak)