Steve Jobs will certainly go down in the history books as one of the greatest visionaries of our time. In fact the truth is he's probably already in the history books. At the very least his influence is ingrained into our society and technology on a level far surpassing virtually any other luminary of our age.
So as I remember him on this day, his final day, I think it appropriate to take a peek back not merely at his accomplishments but at his philosophy. The way he thought about things.
And I can fathom no greater insight into his way of thinking than a commencement address he gave to the graduating class of Stanford in 2005.
Through an examination of this speech (full video at the bottom) I believe we get a snapshot into the heart of who Jobs was, what he wanted to do for the world and what wisdom he hoped to pass on to the rest of us. Here are, for better or worse, the lessons of Steve Jobs in life and death.
Be curious and carve your own path
Jobs told the graduating class that he himself dropped out of Reed college because he had begun to realize that the money his working class parents were spending on tuition was not returning any value. He stuck around campus though, crashing on the floor in friends dorm rooms and turning in soda bottles for nickels to get by. But he also began auditing classes.
One of those classes happened to be a typography course where Jobs learned about the spacial dynamics of lettering and the history and creative methodology of various fonts. It was highly interesting to him but probably useless without any obvious practical application in his life. Yet ten years later, when Jobs was helping to design the Macintosh computer, all that knowledge came back to the forefront and became instrumental in the design, and the fonts used in that computer influenced every other personal computer built since.
In a way, the decision to sit in on that class probably changed the world. Never underestimate the power of learning.
"...much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on."
Be passionate about what you do
Success by Jobs was defined by doing great work, by making an impact on the world that was meaningful and memorable. Through Apple, through the designs and innovations that permeate every inch of our culture, Jobs' passion for technology was both visible and profound.
"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 the vacuum now felt as news of Jobs' death spreads throughout the corners the world is any indicator, his impact was more than astonishing. It was immeasurable.
Acknowledge your own mortality
It's ironic that on day of his passing Jobs' own words echo as a haunting reminder of just how short life is. In his final lesson to the Stanford grads during his commencement address he reminded them to never take things for granted, and to use death as a frame by which they can more clearly see what's truly important in life.
"Remembering you're going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."
Death is a strong motivator and there are times that we forget just how precious our existence is, how fragile our health. For Jobs his battles with cancer over the past few years surely framed and re-framed how he felt about his life, about how numbered his days might be, about his priorities, his family. And yet it never changed his approach.
"Live each day as if it were your last and someday you'll surely be right," he said. It just so happened that today was Steve Jobs' last day here on Earth. Yet I doubt he regretted a minute of it. Will you?