The iMan’s Path

Posted: 2011/10/07 in Stories
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Steve Jobs was a great man—no question. He didn’t just make a fortune, he helped create a new industry. His company’s creations changed the way we live. The “indomitable human spirit” is often a cliché, but not when said of Steve Jobs. He triumphed with the Apple II and Macintosh computers. Then he was fired from his own company, and failed at his NeXT (literally) venture. But Pixar—he founded Pixar, too!—turned out OK. Then he returned to the struggling company he founded, re-invented it, and proceeded to re-define established products, first with the iPod and then with the iPhone. Even as his life ended too soon, he faced death with courage and, like Sinatra, did it his way. Like many great men, he was demanding and difficult, but certainly not evil. The path he traveled can’t be traveled much better than Jobs did it. Steve Jobs was an archetype in the flesh—the iMan.

In 2005, recently diagnosed with the cancer that claimed his life, he marked out the path he followed as though there were no others. In his commencement speech at Stanford University, he declared,

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.

So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

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.

These are heady words, especially to people with the opportunities of Stanford grads. Satisfaction comes from achievement. The universe is on your side. No one knows better than you.

I barely knew my maternal grandmother. All I remember is a frail little lady in a hospital bed. Later, I learned more. Her husband was an alcoholic who drank his pay while she struggled to raise two kids in the shadow of the blast furnaces of Cleveland, Ohio during the Great Depression. Then the War came and she got a factory job and saved enough money to buy a rooming house and put a fragile foundation under her family. Then she was cut down in middle age by an aggressive arthritis, aggressively treated with steroids because they didn’t yet know better. I’m told that she certainly didn’t settle. She fought every step of the way, but it didn’t matter. The dots never connected, at least not how we could see. My father later wrote a little biography of his mother-in-law. It began with these words: “Betty Sage never had a chance.”

For every Stanford grad, there are ten million Betty Sages. Does the path of the iMan make any sense to them?

Somewhere along the way—this is America and not North Korea or Saudi Arabia—some words about another path probably fell on Steve Jobs’ ears. But the words fell like seeds on hard ground.

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.

But several people wrote 2000-odd years ago, claiming that someone did once escape it.

But God raised [Jesus] from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And it’s no use saying that these were just ignorant ancients who told stories about the sun being pulled across the sky in a chariot because they didn’t know Kepler’s Laws. No, the Jews of the first century knew just as well as we do—probably better, since in their day and age, death didn’t keep its distance—that dead people stayed dead, especially people who had been made dead by a Roman execution squad. This isn’t a scientific claim. It’s an historical one. It either happened or it didn’t.

And there are people who want to die. Thich Quang Duc and Mohamed Bouazizi saw death as the only way to shout “injustice!” and be heard. That’s another path, at a right angle to the iMan’s, though a very, very narrow one. And there are a million completed suicides a year, of people for whom the pain of life has just become too much. That path—maybe it starts as the iMan’s but ends in numbing, or bloody, or gasping despair—is not narrow enough.

The words probably reached Steve Jobs’ ears, but he must not have heard them.

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

The one of whom it’s claimed death could not hold him sure had some radical thoughts about it. Is this what Jobs means by dogma and a trap? The intended symbolism of the Apple logo is unclear, but it’s hard to believe that no one ever discussed (and then dismissed, if not actually celebrated) the implied commentary on the bible.

Jobs was not a bad man. You don’t have to look far to find worse. His creativity, passion, and determination speak for themselves, and his companies’ inventions have enriched our lives and made us smile. And he sure can’t be accused of playing it safe. On the path he chose, he was one of the best. And he understood the shortness of life and what that means. “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.”

For Steve Jobs, the iMan, what was truly important was the path of self-actualization through achievement, which is ultimately a dead end for all but a few. For the one who may actually have beaten death, what is truly important is the path of love, open to all.

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