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Steve Jobs Finds Love

    Went to a dinner party last night and in betwixt the usual Iraq and '08 jabber (federalize Iraqi governance? more power to Kurds? McCain-Jeb ticket for GOP primaries?) and the almost ritualized over-the-top praise of the crab cakes (our society suffers from Praise Inflation, in the same way that all political comments are louder and meaner; all meals must be declared the most delicious of all time, truly historic, worthy of Caesar, the nectar of the gods, even if it's just take-out from Popeye's), someone got to talking about the Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford.

     Jobs, famous at a young age for being, among other things, famous at a young age (some of you may not recall that there was a day when Jobs epitomized the Brilliant Young Man, because he was not only a computer genius but also handsome and hip and adept at sitting in the lotus position), tells the story of a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches life. He was a college dropout, but kept hanging around the college to drop in on classes he liked: "I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple." [Who among us has not had a hankering for brown rice and bean sprouts so intense we'd walk halfway to India?]

    He tells of being fired from Apple, the company he created: "So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating." But he still loved computers, and realized that as long as he was doing what he loved, it didn't matter if others considered him a success. You know the rest: Pixar, Toy Story, the return to Apple.

    The most provocative section deals with the certainty of death, and how pondering death has a way of clearing away mental clutter. (It's not the most original thought: You can pick up the zillion-selling 7 Habits book by Steve Covey, for example, and hear Covey say we should all imagine our own funerals and think about what we want people to say.)

    Jobs says: "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."

    His final message is that, to live a successful life, you have to do what you love to do, and not settle for anything less. It sounds great, and indeed this is an excellent speech, though I worry that none of those Stanford kids will now be willing to accept an entry-level job. This is a sore point for me. Not everyone can be a computer genius on the cover of Time magazine at the age of 24, like Jobs. Some of us have to be willing to be the little people. Some of us have to have the courage to be mediocre. (Will Rogers: Some of us have to sit on the curb and clap as the parade goes by.) If no one settles for second best, the entire market of goods and services will collapse.

    So, sure, search for something you love to do. But learn to love what you got as well.   

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 30, 2005; 8:40 AM ET
 
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