Steven Paul Jobs and the Meaning of Life

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Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt

I never knew how deeply in love I was with Steve Jobs until the day he died.

And I can say, without any exaggeration, that he looms in my life as a Christ-like figure.

Does this mean I believe he is in some way divine? The son of God, perhaps? No, not exactly; that role was taken a couple thousand years ago.

But to understand my feelings, you need to understand my worldview. And, thus, this is a dangerous post. Because some people don't react well to directness. Some people don't react well to the unconventional. And, God knows, many people don't respond well to honesty. I've got the emails to prove it.

1105-youngandoldI want to jump in here early and clear some air about any religious references. I have, in the past, been surprised by how easily offended purportedly devout Christians have been to some of my writing. I live in a terribly secular place, and most people around here figure that Christianity (or any religion) is the domocile of dummies. Simply stated, if you're too stupid to grasp basic logic or science – – – or you're easily brainwashed – – you hang on to ancient, laughable notions of theists.

Well, I'm an unapologetic Christian, and I'll match my IQ against just about anyone else's. The Christian doctrine makes sense to me, and in spite of the lack of a special phone on my desk, I'm in regular touch with the Almighty.

I frankly don't even care if Jesus was anything more than a gentle philosopher. Walking on water……..turning water into wine…..raising from the dead. At best, these were magical tricks meant to dazzle the doubters. It doesn't matter to me whether he did that stuff or not. The assertions as to how we should behave are what resonate with me. I can live without white rabbits being pulled out of empty hats. Make the air cold enough, and I'll walk on water for you, too.

What does this have to do with the co-founder of a technology company? Plenty. Jobs is, in some respects, my own personal Jesus. Why? Because of how he lived his life.

1105-jobsandwozWas he a perfectly good man? Obviously not. He was verbally abusive to countless people in his life. He made public, bald-faced lies on many occasions. He turned his back on his first child, leaving her and the mother desperately poor when he was making millions. And, although his wife and children were very understanding, he spent just a sliver of his time with his family, devoting himself instead to the two giant companies he led, Apple and Pixar.

So how does this mean-spirited, self-absorbed businessman serve as some kind of example for the rest of us? Well, I can't speak for you all, but I can speak for myself.

Steve Jobs represents, for me, the best of what free enterprise can be about, and the best of what Silicon Valley can represent. He started from nothing and created the largest and greatest company in the world. He set the standard for design. He set the standard for tenacity. He set the standard for adhering to principles.

Doing all this required a directness and strength that could often by hurtful, brutal, and brash. He pushed people – – and companies – – to be their best and to achieve things that they thought would be impossible. And he didn't do this in a huggy, Leo Buscaglia kind of way. He did it by force of his charisma as well as withering criticism.

1105-jobssculleyPeople have become so used to the tale of Jobs' expulsion from Apple and his triumphant return a dozen years later that they just shrug it off as history.

I cannot emphasize enough how breathtakingly unlikely it was that things turned out as they did. The deepest impression I took away from the biography – – and remember, I knew 85% of the stuff in it already – – was how the story could have turned out completely differently if just one out of one-thousand little circumstances had been different.

Chaos theory saturates the entire story, because hundreds of tiny events – – from his adoption (in which case he could have wound up with any of three different couples) to a chance encounter with Steve Wozniak to a visit at Xerox PARC to a pivotal visit to the SIGGRAPH show – – laid out the path. If the butterfly's wings had fluttered just a little differently anywhere in the tale, the world we live in today would be utterly mutated.

I've seen many writers suggest that Jobs was one of the best businessmen of our generation. Such a qualifier is ridiculous. Jobs was the best businessman of all time. Period. Rockefeller may have amassed more wealth, but I'm not talking about net worth here. I'm talking about the sheer weight of talent and contribution.

Steve Jobs' impact on the world will be felt for generations, and it sure as hell involved a lot more creativity than amassing illegal monopolistic powers related to sucking decomposed prehistoric goo out of the ground. Jobs eschewed hundreds of millions of dollars that he could have grabbed, because his values were more important to him than being the richest guy in the graveyard.

1105-laureneFor me, the entire tale is deeply intertwined with my own life, both past and present. I did a video a few months back detailing the lengths to which I went in order to have a chance encounter with the man (and, now that he's gone, I am even more pleased I did so).

And in my present-day life, I pass by people and places here in his town that remind me of him: the grocery store he used to shop; the spooky home of his original Macintosh engineer who became mentally ill and holes up inside it all the time; the Apple store where, the day the iPhone was introduced, he walked in with his wife and just about gave everyone a heart attack, including me. This town is saturated with the people and places he has touched and influenced.

All the elements of the Passion Play are there – – from the lifelong mission (Apple) cut short by an unjust trial and death (his expulsion and twelve-year abandonment by his creation), and his miraculous return, whose likelihood in statistical terms was probably more remote than a bodily resurrection. He had his faithful disciples all along the way as well, who believed in him and his values, even when the powers that be put him in a position in which he seemed to no longer matter.

1105-houseThis deification of Jobs isn't something confined to my nutty little corner of the Internet. After Jobs died, memorials and shrines sprung up around the entire world. Testaments, lit candles, bouquets of flowers, and countless tears were offered.

This is not because he was anything beyond a man. He was flesh and blood, obviously, just like you and me, and his own bizarre attitude toward food cut months, or even years, off his life. But he, and the way he lived his life, was transcendent in many ways. We have, in the course of humanity's history, a few people who will be remembered through the ages as tremendous leaders. Steve Jobs clearly was one.

But what does this say about our own lives and how we live them?

Each of us is placed on this earth with certain blessings and certain curses. Some things in our lives we can control, and some things we cannot. As we get older, we hopefully have more control over our circumstances, although many people on the planet do not. In my own life, I have been spared the privation (lack of clean water, food, safety) that so many on the planet endure, and I'm sure virtually everyone reading this post has had, more or less, decent opportunities to craft what they would consider a successful life.

But what is success? Is it up to us to measure ourselves against someone like Jobs? Of course not. Living in this Valley, one thing I've learned – – and it's sinking in deeper every year – – is what a large part dumb luck has to do with where people wind up.

I know plenty of people living in $20 million mansions, and I know people equally as intelligent and well-spoken who are barely getting by. It isn't intellect, ethics, or good looks that separate them. What separates them is how they took their collective set of gifts and matched them with the world in which they live. It also has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time while they were making use of those gifts.

The framework of your life has three broad elements:

1. Your Talents, which you cannot really control, yet you can extend them with education, repeated use, and training;

2. Your Circumstances, about which you have no control at birth but hopefully have large control over as an adult;

3. The World Around You, which is largely out of your hands.

What you do to match #1 with #3 is, I believe, what defines your success in life, and it is also what should drive #2.

The destitute man in some hellish part of the world who somehow manages to provide food and water for his family each day is every bit as giant as Steve Jobs ever was, even though no one will have ever heard of him or remember him when he's gone. The 4th grade school teacher who, witnessing the boredom and "acting out" of Jobs as a child and, out of nothing but the love of teaching, spent the time with him to help him fall in love with learning was, through that act, just as magnificent as Jobs. He has mentioned her many times during in life in the fondest terms.

And, as a father, I was inspired to read what a profound and lasting influence his father, Paul Jobs, had on his son. It impressed upon me how much my behavior, actions, and values count in the eyes of my own children. I've tried to be a good father, but I'm going to try harder.

These are the choices people make to take whatever life hands them and make something positive out of it. These are people who have embraced certain values, from something as simple as providing for their family to something as complex as having an unyielding design ethic, and have stuck by those values irrespective of difficulty or risk.

None of us have to invent anything or make a fortune in order to have lived a successful live. All of us will die, and as far as we know, the time on this earth is all we get. I personally don't believe that, but it could be true; the Nihilists could be right.

But I don't even think any of that matters, and if there is a God, and I've lived my life believing there is, I also don't think he cares what our take on the situation is either. The fact is that you are here, and the skills you have, great or small as they may be, and the circumstances around you are, easy or challenging as they might be, are what you need to marry.

No one in my lifetime made these two spheres – skills and setting – sing together the way Steve Jobs did. And that is why I have felt, for the month that has lapsed since his death, an emptiness and loss that I never imagined would be there. He was a model for our own potential for greatness, and I hope to track him down again some day on the astral plane, shake his hand, and tell him again how much he meant to me.

Finally and above all else, he was marvelously alive; and mankind, dreading boredom even more than anxieties, is grateful to those who make life throb with a swifter, stronger beat – Voltaire