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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Jobs’

Of all the words that have been spoken or written (ours included) about Steve Jobs in the past few weeks, the wisest and most meaningful may have come from the eulogy delivered by his sister, novelist Mona Simpson, who recently shared it with the New York Times.

By now, you have probably read Simpson’s opening:

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

And you probably know Jobs’ final words, with which Simpson ended her eulogy:

 OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.

But what’s stashed between those bookends is genius: a number of life lessons that apply to so many of us, especially women, as we try to figure out where and how we fit into our changing world. We women have come a long way in a short amount of time, with no real roadmaps – or even many role models — to guide us as we try to figure out the balance between the expectations of our evolving roles and a world that hasn’t quite caught up.   As we heard from one of the women — a poet, a grantwriter for a nonprofit, a schoolboard member and a new mother — we interviewed for our book:

“I wonder if some of our frustration is about the fact that it’s virtually impossible to excel at everything—wife, writer, teacher, runner, in my case—and so we’re always worried about the area in which we’re not measuring up to our own expectations. Maybe it’s that society is telling us all that we have to be successful career women—but the world has forgotten to mention that if we want to do that, we can let go of worrying about our pound cake. Or maybe it’s just that the mold of womanhood has been broken, and now it’s up to all of us to make up our own versions. That’s incredibly empowering—because it means we get to make things up as we go along—but also scary and hard.”

And so, because we’re still learning how to navigate the trade-offs, when it comes to making choices on how to live our lives we often rely on shoulds and expectations – and spend a lot of our time wondering “what if.”  Nasty business, most of the time, that takes us out of the moment, and into the netherworld of grass-is-greener.  We second-guess ourselves, contemplating what might have been, and worrying about whether we measure up.

All of which brings us back to Mona Simpson and the lessons she learned from her big brother Steve who, on top of everything else, truly appreciated the wonder in life.  If it’s a roadmap we need, it’s a good one to follow:

• Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day.

• He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn’t ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn’t have to be.

• His philosophy of aesthetics reminds me of a quote that went something like this: “Fashion is what seems beautiful now but looks ugly later; art can be ugly at first but it becomes beautiful later.”  Steve always aspired to make beautiful later.

 • He was willing to be misunderstood.

 • He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.

 • With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun. He treasured happiness.

What you find, if you distill those lessons, is a simple recipe for living life to the fullest, whether or not we ever achieve iconic and/or genius status (note: most likely we won’t): Work hard.  Follow your heart — even if failure is a distinct possibility.  Be patient (art versus fashion, remember?).  Treasure the moment.

And appreciate the wonder.

It all resonates, actually, with one of Apple’s earliest slogans, borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

As with Apple, so with life?  Oh wow.

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 Last week during all the memorializing of Apple founder/college dropout/cultural visionary Steve Jobs, I found myself watching the commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005 — and, in all that wisdom, one line in particular gave me the chills: Don’t Live Someone Else’s Life, he said. Actually, what he said was:

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.

Living someone else’s life? Now, I (vaguely) recall being a fresh college grad, and I’m sure such words might have just made me chuckle then, but with a few additional years under my belt, I can say I know exactly what he’s talking about. I think most of us do, if we’re honest.

So often, we make choices based on shoulds, on expectations, biases, images, maybe even out of fear. Women in particular often find our decisions are colored by worries about being judged or getting approval, and we’re often battling some deeply entrenched beliefs around it somehow being virtuous to put ourselves last — at the bottom of our own list. Sometimes we just drift. But, with each choice we make, our life picks up a little bit of steam, until, sometimes, before we know it, we find the life we’re living is one that’s being driven by inertia, heading off in some direction we never planned.

As Molly, a young Manhattanite we profiled in the book, told us:

I did everything my boss asked, I did it perfectly, I sucked up. In six months, I got promoted. It was one of the fastest promotions they’d ever experienced. I tried really hard, and I moved to the next step; I tried really hard, and I moved to the next step. And now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, wait a minute, how did I get this far? I just blindly tried really hard without really thinking, What’s the end? Where is this getting me?

To quote the Talking Heads: Self, how did I get here? 

Sounds familiar, no? But maybe the more important question is this: How do I take back the wheel?

Well here’s the good news: You don’t have to take back anything! You’re not powerless. It was you who made the choices that got you to this point — this job, this relationship, this roommate, this pet chinchilla — and you are not powerless to make choices that’ll take you down a different path from here. Those are your hands on the wheel — they’ve been there all along.

Once you acknowledge you’re the one in control of those hands, your next step should be to take some time to notice where they’re steering you, your focus, your time, your energy? Because here’s the thing: everything is a choice — and every choice, by definition, entails a trade-off. Whether we go into it consciously or not.

Whether or not you consciously think to yourself: this time I’m spending baking cookies for the kids’ bake sale or agonizing over which color to use in the graph on Slide 4 in this PowerPoint is time I am not spending in the garden, or researching the yoga teacher training course I’ve been thinking about since I dropped my first “Om,” you’re still making the trade. You can’t be in two places at once. And the decisions you make about what to do with your time, where to focus your energy — well, they shape your life. So if you’re feeling like you’re living someone else’s life, start going into those choices consciously — really thinking about what you are and are not choosing to do. Once you do, you might discover you’re spending your time and energy on things (and maybe even people and jobs) that you don’t really care about, letting the things you’re most passionate about slip by the wayside, while you’re on cruise control.

It can be scary — maybe our passion seems weird, our dreams too far out of reach. Maybe you’ll fail. And maybe after that, you’ll try again. But wouldn’t you rather fail at your own dreams than succeed at someone else’s? And hey, failure’s recoverable — even Steve Jobs got fired.

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