Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you've probably heard the sad news of Steve Jobs' death. And you've also probably either read or watched all or parts of his 2005 Standford commencement speech. As someone who has been really struggling with her job lately — do I stay and keep the paycheck but feel unfulfilled every day? or do I leave and risk either not finding another steady job or not succeeding the way I hope to working on my own? — listening to Steve's words has given me an immense amount of hope and inspiration.
In the speech, Steve said:
You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
After hearing that, I thought to myself: "You know what? He's right. Why should I settle for something less than what I love? I have passion. I have things I would love to be doing. So why am I not doing them?" There is only one answer to that last question and it is: FEAR. I'm afraid. I'm afraid to do what I love because what if I fail? What if I struggle and find that I'm miserable? It's one thing to be unhappy doing a job that you don't love, but it's quite another thing to be living out your dream and failing at it.
It's that fear and all of the rationalizations that come along with it — "The economy is so bad; I can't give up my paycheck." "How would I support myself if I wasn't able to make any money?" "I can't give up all of the amenities I've gotten used to in my life." "So many people try to do what I want to do and don't succeed so why bother?" "What will people think of me if I don't succeed?" "I have to be more practical. Grown-ups don't just quit their jobs to become writers." "What about health insurance?" — that are holding me back.
But there is a force greater than my fear — a situation that cannot be avoided and that, as I mentioned last week, serves as one of the best motivators — and that force is death. Scary as the idea of dying might be, it's inevitable. It's going to happen. Like Steve, I want to use my knowledge of life's end to motivate me into living. In the speech, Steve shared this story:
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.
Cliche as the "follow your heart" notion is, when put in this context, it is freshly inspiring. In the past, the notion of following my heart has always been held back by the thoughts of all I had to lose. But, as Steve reminds us, there is nothing to lose. This is my life — these are our lives — and if we don't live them now, when are we going to live them?
Though it saddens me to know that the world has lost such an innovative soul, the death of Steve Jobs — and the words he left ringing in our ears — has served as a reminder to me that life is short. After writing my post about death quite coincidentally last week, I was already thinking about how important it is to live life to the fullest, to enjoy and really make the most of each moment, and hearing the sad news of Steve's death only served to further remind me that this is my life. And it's up to me to make it what I want it to be. Likewise, it's up to you to make your life the life you want to be living.
As Steve said: Don't settle. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Though I've heard these phrases a million times before, his words came into my life just when I needed them the most. So from now on, I'm not just going to be listening to this advice. I'm going to be living it.