Remembering Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs: 1955 - 2011

By now, a tome of eulogies and reflections of the tremendous legacy of Steve Jobs’ work has been written.  PC user or Mac evangelist, everyone – particularly in Silicon Valley – has been impacted by the work that Jobs laid the foundation for and the new industries he pioneered or reshaped.  There isn’t really anything much I can add to what has already been said about the man who spearheaded the Apple revolution and inspired a generation of designers, and I think the words of his sister, Mona Simpson, most eloquently summarize the legacy of a man whose impact is as much technological as it is profoundly philosophical.

What I do want to share (briefly) is the only story that I can really tell, and that is the personal impact that Steve Jobs has had on me. In 2005, Steve delivered a commencement speech at Stanford University about choices, love, life and dreams. I don’t know if he realized it then that that one 15-minute speech would live on to be watched over 12 million times on YouTube alone (but knowing Steve, he probably perceived it long before it even hit any video sharing site).

When it first came out, I was still a junior in college and while I appreciated the eloquence of those words, it wasn’t until I officially entered the formal workforce that I came to grasp the wisdom and simple truth behind those words. The old adage of following your passion, your dreams, and believing in yourself is one that we are repeatedly told, especially in Western culture.  Yet it was this speech that tied it together, and in true Steve Jobs fashion, it was punctuated by the anecdotes you needed to hear in all the right places.

Fast forward four years, and I was at one of the first major crossroads in my life, and it was in part due to this speech, that I decided to quit a stable job to write. It wasn’t that it was bad – it just didn’t lead to the answer I wanted when posed with the question that Steve asked himself each morning: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

For anyone that knows me, I’m a sucker for graduation speeches – call it idealism, blind optimism, or something in between. I love the stories they reveal about people’s dreams, and the hope that often seems to burst from the seams of these speeches, but there are only a couple of speeches that I keep nearby. Always.  For those days when I need a reminder, a kick in the butt, a nudge.

On the day of Steve Jobs’ passing, I was writing a story about what his passing and legacy meant. One person I interviewed was an economist currently pursuing a design-centric MBA, not the most conventional path for economists (we tend to be a very rational lot).  But he recalls how this speech inspired him to make that leap, saying “it’s not often that you change your life because of a speech”.  And it’s true.  But it’s not just a speech, it’s a story about a journey, and that journey could be anyone’s.

There are many reasons why Steve Jobs mattered in my life, as the architect behind products that have grown with me since my adolescence (the iPod was the first major purchase I made with my first job in college), to driving my love for technology and design and the belief that they could fundamentally change the world. But it is his philosophy and outlook that I will always remember, and as the years go on, this speech and the words behind them are ones that are sure to stay etched in this writer’s heart for many late nights and early mornings to come.

 “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – The Whole Earth Catalogue

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