November 25, 2011

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Steve Jobs's death on October 5 shocked the world, even though his illness guaranteed it sooner than later. Millions realized how significantly he changed our lives and the Internet was abuzz with expressions of sadness and gratitude. I was super impressed by TIME's last-minute decision to stop the presses with three hours left to close and recreate the issue to commemorate his death. A reflection from TIME's art director describes the process in more detail; it's really amazing. The cover photo was so moving. It was perfect, capturing Steve Jobs on the floor of his living room with his Mac, before he could imagine the success he would experience in the coming decades.

But it was Newsweek's commemorative issue that blew me away. Granted, I think they had more time to put it together. While TIME's issue was not entirely devoted to Steve Jobs (I believe they still ran much of the original intended content), Newsweek pulled together a wide range of excellent editorial solely devoted to the man. It included, yeah, the typical articles reiterated everywhere about both his early life (adoption, high school partnership with Steve Wozniak, dropping out of college, LSD in India, etc.), and how he ultimately changed the world with his innovation and eye for good design. But it also included an essay about Steve's relationship with Laurene Powell Jobs, the "apple of his eye," and an essay about his relationship with Bill Gates. It included an excerpt from his famous Stanford University commencement speech, another from a conversation between him and screenwriter/producer Aaron Sorkin, and an in depth look at the disease that killed him. Several infographics tracked: his magazine covers, his "geek chic" fashion, the businesses he transformed (computers, movies, videogames, music, phones), the gadgets he created, and his flops. It included an essay about the geniuses who came before him and a thought-provoking essay about the geniuses who we will never know. Quotes demonstrated how Steve Jobs foresaw many innovations. I loved the excellent photography of worldwide tributes and of the young Steve. The sad mac on the inside cover: minor detail but nice touch. It was a well-rounded tribute to Steve Jobs's life and career, and I really enjoyed reading it and recommend to all. (Try to find a print issue, because articles are nearly impossible to find on the Daily Beast)


When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, some day 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 tumour 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 tumour. 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 some day 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.

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