Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Steve Jobs and the Purpose of Life

During the past 24 hours some big news hit the business world. Steve Jobs, CEO of the most successful technology firm in the world and the maker of my computer, is retiring. In the tech world, this is a big deal. Jobs originally built Apple out of his parents garage and has seen it through to its current success. The only time Apple has struggled was during a stretch when we wasn’t with the company—he was busy starting Pixar. Now we will see what kind of company he built.

Beyond business, though, I see a lot of themes that relate to life and purpose. In reading about Jobs’ departure, I found a speech he delivered in 2005 to the graduating class of Stanford. He had some strong words to share.

He addressed the fact that life rarely makes sense moving forward, but has much more clarity looking back.

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.

He links his faith in the dots connecting to “gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” For me, the dots connect because God is in control of the universe. But still, Jobs point is great. If we don’t believe that the dots will connect eventually, we struggle to take risks and try things new.

As for deciding what to do with your life:

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.

Great work only comes from love. I see this in Miss Irby‘s work. She loved what she did and therefore withstood the obstacles in her way. Without love there is no passion. Without passion we will not do anything great.

Finally, some deep words about death:

[The year before this speech he was diagnosed with cancer and told he had three months to live. When the doctors made a more thorough examination, they found that his cancer was operable. After surgery, he was cancer free.]

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 waste your life. Now this demands a longer and deeper discussion of what it means to “waste” or “invest” your life. But I love the questions his speech opens up. And all this from a man who dropped out of college after six months.

Here’s to not wasting our lives . . .

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