Lessons on life from Steve Jobs

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The short 15 minute video below is from the commencement address Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple,  gave to the graduating class at Stanford University in 2005.

It is a fascinating insight into the motives and inspiration behind a remarkable and brilliant man. He covers 3 main areas – making sense of life, love and loss and death.

The video for me raises as many questions as it answers.

Here are some questions it raises for me:

  • Jobs was actually adopted.

How different would the world have been if his mother had exercised her right to choose and chosen to abort him?

Thank goodness she didn’t!

  • He talks about how you can only connect the dots of life by going backwards and not forward.  He had to drop out of college and ended up collecting 5 cents coke bottles to buy food with only one full meal a week by walking 7 miles to the local Hare Krishna temple. Yet, as he says, “much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity turned out to be priceless later on.” That really is big picture thinking and about having the faith to believe that there is a purpose behind all that happens in my life – even those parts that are painful and don’t on the surface appear to make sense.

Joseph, from the Old Testament, paralleling this sentiment, was able to turn to his brothers many years after they had betrayed him and he had become Prime Minister of Egypt, to say in Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

How much am I willing to suspend the need to have all the answers in my life and move forward trusting that one day it will all make sense?

  • The pain of being fired from the company he himself had created. The key for him though was to carry on doing what he loved to do. Everyone is not necessarily privileged enough to have the choice to do what they love to do and yet at the same time Jobs chose to sacrifice and go out of his way to enable that to happen.

How much am I prepared to get out of my comfort zone to pursue my dreams and ambitions?

  • Jobs’ guiding quote from the age of 17 was ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you’ll most certainly be right.” This is a great principle of Carpe Diem – or seize the day.

How much am I making of all the opportunities and privileges before me?

It is so easy to complain and focus on what you don’t have rather than being grateful for what you do have and make the most of every opportunity.

Some great insights.

And yet watching the video, I can’t help but feeling that something is missing. As helpful and insightful as the talk is, there is no eternal perspective. That is all the more poignant as Jobs died in October 2011 age 56  from complications of pancreatic cancer.

I find myself turning to a prayer of Moses in Psalm 90:12 that says – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

And maybe that is the point. As brilliant as Steve Jobs was, and as fantastic the products he and his company created were and are (I personally use many of them), they are not enough and eventually become ordinary. Another quote from Jobs has the seed of this idea, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

Our hearts are longing to sing to something that has substance and will last. Technology, wonderful tool as it is, cannot do that on its own. I remember when I was 12 years old in 1976 (those with insight will be able to calculate how old I am!)  and had a cousin returning to India, drop in to London on his way back from the Olympics in Montreal. I remember being amazed by his LED watch that glowed fluorescent red  and told you the time. He had paid $100 (in today’s prices, probably ten times that) for it and today it would not even be worth 1 cent! Technology so quickly loses its novelty and becomes so ordinary, but there is One who is transcendent over time and technology!

I give the poet George Herbert (1593-1633) the final word, “I live to show his power who once did bring, first my joy to weep and now my griefs to sing.”

What issues and questions does this video raise for you?


10 thoughts on “Lessons on life from Steve Jobs”

  1. Hi Sunil

    Thank you for sharing this video. The thing which struck me was how Steve Jobs had to walk seven miles for the one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna centre. My question is this – had the centre been a Christian centre might he have become a Christian instead of later seeking out Eastern religions in India?

    Mr Jobs advised the graduating students, ‘You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever’. Not God. Perhaps he found his physical hunger satisfied at the Hare Krishna centre but not his spiritual hunger.

    For me personally, this reiterates the fact that Jesus had a real understanding of our human needs. He not only fed his followers’ minds (when he taught them) but also fed their bodies (as in the feeding of the five thousand).

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, as Christians, we could feed the next Steve Jobs and make sure his heart, mind and life was lived in pursuit not only of technological perfection but also of God and his kingdom?

    1. Thank you for your observations Mei Ling. These are questions we will never know the answer to.
      It does also raise the observation as well that we should never discount the potential of others who we come across in our lives.

    2. Hi Mei, the gist of this post is that we all, including Steve jobs, have the need to worship and idolise something and for many it is the sinful curved-on-itself human nature that is elevated and for others it’s something outside of themselves like a guiding principal or doctrine such as Karma. In fact whatever naming strategy we use it’s mans search for God and what we can make of that- what a shame Steve Jobs hadn’t had a personal encounter with the risen-Lord Jesus. He would have had something to present to God with his life

  2. Steve Jobs achieved so much in life and for that I admire him, but like you Sunil, I feel that there was something missing. Sadly the spiritual dimension was not there. I can’t help wondering, if he lived each day as if it was his last, to use his own quote, how well did he prepare for eternity.

    1. Thank you Marjun.
      We will never know in this life, but it is a good reminder of how life only makes sense with regard to an eternal perspective.

  3. I am currently struggling with a bit of a paradox: I am in a relatively ‘secure’ job (although things can change very quickly) and I have the option to stay in this job until 55 if I wish (or if they keep renewing my contract, which is subject to performance and a medical every 3 years), but I feel as if I should be doing something to prepare for the future, just in case I lose my job for whatever reason, but I just don’t know what I should be doing, and God seems to be silent on this issue (I have asked a few times). So herein lies the paradox; do I do nothing to prepare for the future, trusting that God will provide everything for me and has gone ahead of me? (as it says in the Bible), or do I start to study something (thereby not fully trusting God for my future), which could actually turn out to be a total waste of time because God will send my life in a totally unexpected direction? And this brings up other questions; I’m thinking about taking out life insurance so that my family will be provided for if I die (Steve Jobs died although he was a millionaire); is taking out life insurance not trusting God to provide?? I’m hoping God will give me some kind of insight because it’s causing me a bit of a headache!!

    1. Thank you for your honest questions Karl.
      The response that comes to my mind is ‘trust in God, but also lock your car!’ By that I mean we need to be careful to not put God into a religious box. It is a bit like the story of the man whose house was gradually flooding. A car came by and he was told to jump in to be rescued. He replied, he would not come as God would save him. The water levels rose higher until he was on the roof. A boat then came and he again refused to get in saying he was trusting in God. Finally a helicopter came to pull him up and he again refused. The flood waters rose and he eventually died and faced God. He was angry with God, saying why did you not rescue me? God’s response was – I sent you car, a boat and a helicopter!
      So it is too simplistic to say taking life insurance is not trusting God. You need to make the decision with regard to the overall context of your life, your resources and the responsibilities you have.
      Also with God nothing is wasted. He uses all the experiences of our life (the good, the bad, the ugly and even what seems a waste of time) for His ultimate purpose. We tend to be too focussed on getting an answer, whereas He is focussed on changing and moulding our character.
      I hope that helps.
      By the way, I may be biased as I personally do have life insurance!

  4. Jobs’ 2005 Stanford speech: the bible’s book of Ecclesiastes springs to mind – so much wisdom and yet all ‘under the sun’, missing the fullest, resurrection perspective. Kierkegaard’s ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards’ is a favourite of mine – what Jobs described as ‘joining the dots’.
    In response to Karl – I think life insurance (provided the premiums don’t impoverish your family!) is a responsible and generous act, not a failure to trust. The challenge is discerning the right balance between providing for our family and giving – time, energy or money – outside our family. As for further study in case of future unemployment, perhaps it’s motive that matters most in discerning right from wrong? If you’d just love to learn some new skill or craft, or explore some new field of learning, all other things being equal: go for it! But if your prime motive is fear – ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).

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