A Few Words on Death from Steve Jobs
Like many Mac aficionados, I am saddened by the recent death of Apple founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs. He is being hailed as a visionary innovator, businessman, and cultural icon. The man who introduced the iPod, iPhone, and iPad . . . not to mention iTunes and the ability to show your inherit coolness by carrying a device with the iconic logo with a bite taken out of it . . . was a creative genius. People around the world are rightly remembering and praising him for his leadership skills and historic impact. Ironically, it is his words to graduates at Stanford University a few years ago that are providing context to his life and death. Here are the most pertinent from his June 12, 2005 speech:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, 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.
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.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
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 be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.
Those words are inspiring and eerie in the days following his death. They seem to ring true to the cry that screams from deep within many, but are they accurate? Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. This philosophy appeals to us, especially the young and emerging. Is this good advice? Is it true in light of a faith and commitment to God? Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6 could arguably support the first half, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” However, that seems to be a stretch when you consider the context of Jobs’ speech. He was speaking of desire, passion, and the ability to pursue your dreams. Perhaps if your hunger is directed outward and not self-oriented, then they would be applicable to the words of Christ.
On first glance, the second half of his closing advise, Stay Foolish, would apparently contradict scripture outright. Shouldn’t we “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless?” (Titus 3:9) But 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And the Apostle Paul goes on to say, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (verses 20b & 21)
So Steve Jobs’ advice could be more accurate than I thought! In fact, the statement that moves me the most is “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.” I am not getting any younger and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. I am inspired by Steve Jobs’ life, vision, and contributions. “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" THAT IS A GREAT QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF. What do you think?