After my first classes today, I popped on the internet to find the sad, sad news of the passing of Steve Jobs. We all knew he was sick. We saw him wither away, knew that he’d recently been forced to step down at Apple because of his poor health. But I think most people like Steve Jobs – the people who seem to transcend mortality, the ones who have a magic touch, the geniuses – are, in our minds at least, untouchable. We can’t really believe that they too, despite everything, are mere mortals. I guess it didn’t occur to me that he would actually lose his battle. When I read the news today, I felt the tears welling up. The news felt devastating.
But it doesn’t really make sense that I would feel this way. I’m not a computer geek (though I like my laptop) and I don’t even own an Apple (too expensive). So why, I had to ask myself, did I feel such a connection to the computer guy?
I think it comes down to a few things.
He was wise.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon Steve’s (now ubiquitous) commencement speech at Stanford. I read it because, well, I like commencement speeches written by smart and interesting people. This is mainly because it gives these smart people the unique opportunity to concisely write down and summarize important life lessons. I figure maybe they have something of value to say. At the very least, they can be funny.
The amazing thing about Steve’s commencement speech is that it changed my life. Scratch that. Most things you come into contact with on a daily basis don’t change your life. They don’t knock you over the head and suddenly you are an entirely other person. Things that change your life come in bits and pieces. You read something here, you hear something there and before you know it, you look up and things seem different. So Steve Jobs’ commencement speech didn’t strike me like lightening and change my life. Rather, it crept into my subconscious and parked itself as a life lesson. A life lesson that I found myself repeating over and over.
…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 – you destiny, life, karma, whatever.
Steve was talking about failing. He was talking about doing things that intuitively felt right. He was talking about choosing to do things that you liked. Things that interested you. He was talking about trusting that your experiences, however disjointed, would serve you one day. He was talking about trusting that life has an ebb and flow. He was talking about having faith in the power of your life to both surprise you and work out.
This lesson (like most) came to me at a time when I needed it. When the student is ready the teacher will appear. It came to me when I was certain that the dots would never connect. It came to me when I was absolutely sure I had wasted so much of my precious time on something that would never be worth it. This lesson of Steve’s gave me a great gift when I needed it. It allowed me to forgive myself. It allowed me to trust myself. It allowed me to let go of regret and trust that, one day, the dots would connect back.
Steve Jobs represented something greater than himself.
I often find myself traveling. You know that. I have a blog devoted to it. As you might imagine, I’m often in contact with people from different countries. Standard questions are always swapped, amongst which is always where are you from? I have the distinct pleasure of being from California. Not because California is always a great place to be, sometimes it’s not. But because the images of California that exist in the minds of people all over the world are the ideal of California. In this California, everyone lives at the beach. In this California, hippy kids gave birth to the children of Google. In this California, the vineyard grapes grow warm under our eternal summer suns. In this California, anything is possible.
You can’t take credit for everything that makes people dream of California. The weather is its own, the majestic mountains and beaches are simply ours to protect. But to be the caretaker of a legacy is a tall order. And for California, Steve Jobs not only created, but also cared for the legacy of our state. When you thought about the companies he created, you thought of California. You think sleek, progressive, but also warm and inviting. You think innovative. You think revolutionary. You think quality.
He did his part to take care of the legacy. He took care of my home. He represented something that was bigger than himself. He made us proud.
He invented modern computing.
You can’t talk about Steve Jobs without talking about computers. Are you sitting at your computer reading this? Or maybe on your iphone or ipad (if you’re lucky)? Did you try to print something on your desktop today? If you did, you probably went to the left-hand corner of your screen, clicked file, scrolled down and clicked print. You probably did that with your mouse, didn’t you? Or maybe you just tapped on the screen of your phone.
Before Steve Jobs (and Woz), computers didn’t work like that. They weren’t easy. They were typing in lots of numbers just to get your computer to do, well, anything. They were complicated and time consuming and well, not so user friendly. People couldn’t even understand why you would want to own a computer.
I’m sitting here typing away on my computer and it’s hard for me to even put down into words how meaningful Steve Jobs’ contribution to our lives is. But I think you understand. Personal computers are the foundation for our global society. They’re so important, so valuable, so vital to our time that they helped (with the Internet) to spawn a new age. The Information Age.
So why was Steve Jobs’ life meaningful to me and why have I felt a loss at his death? I didn’t know him, but he shared himself with the community. For all his accomplishments, he was, after all simply human. He succeeded. He failed. He did it big. He taught important lessons to us all. That kind of loss should be recognized. That kind of person, that kind of life, should be remembered. And even though I didn’t know him, I want to say thank you.Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you for enriching my life and all of our lives. Yours, although too short, was a big, meaningful, full life. You made people better. Thank you for sharing yourself with so many of us. Thank you for being the best you could be.
Wherever you are Steve, thank you.