Upon hearing that Steve Jobs had died my first thoughts were selfish:
I’ve never accomplished anything like he did.
I probably won’t “change the world.”
I probably won’t be remembered by many people after dying.
Am I really pursing my dreams?
It’s human nature to be selfish, that’s why we’ve always had and always will have conflict on Earth. But I’m coming to terms with not being Steve Jobs.
Mr. Jobs died at 56 years of age. He was 18 years older than I am today. That’s not really a lot of time, is it?
Even if Steve Jobs lived another 20 years, that’s still not a lot of time.
He truly did “change the world” in ways we are still trying to understand. Even if you never owned an Apple product, you’re still affected by his genius almost every time you touch a piece of personal electronics.
But, for all of his wealth, fame, brilliance, and transformative powers he is still in a state of non-existence.
When I was younger I often thought having my name spoken in a positive way by strangers 100 years or longer after I had died was the yardstick by which one could measure having had a “good life.”
But is this truly the way to measure having had a good life… to be known by strangers after your death?
My views have shifted as I’ve aged… either because I’m justifying to myself that I won’t have monuments built in my name or that, perhaps, I’m arriving closer to the truth.
Wealth can buy one many comforts, and often a longer life but, in the end, you’re still going to die. Whether you’ve walked down the streets of Paris or only those of your hometown those experiences are still going to mostly end with you unless you’ve written about the road not taken.
So it is important to enjoy what you do have.
Since I walked down many streets in Paris when I lived there I can say that, though the memories are good, they were simply streets in some other city that, aside from the architecture, were not very different from anyplace else I have been.
The human condition is one of “the grass is greener.” That is why people divorce their spouses for someone younger, get a new car or phone, buy a different jacket, move to a different city, or work longer hours to buy a house with a pool they will never have time to use.
The grass is not greener it is simply different. But often our efforts to experience this different grass changes our life negatively.
Is working longer hours really beneficial to your life if it means spending less time with your family or doing things which you enjoy such as working on your car, writing, or reading books?
Sure, you might be able to afford something nicer in life and ski in the Swiss Alps instead of at Lake Tahoe but would it really be that different?
Do you want to be the kid who, at age 16, is handed the keys to a brand new Porsche? When you’re 16 nothing could possibly sound better but if you have a $100,000.00 car at age 16 how do you top that?
You want a $200,000.00 Lamborghini by the time you are 20.
And a $250,000.00 Ferrari by 25.
It’s a shell game that changes constantly and, with each shift, what you reach for always exceeds your grasp.
This can lead to much dissatisfaction and frustration in life.
When I got my 1971 VW Bus back in 1995 I promised myself I’d conduct a little experiment and never get rid of it. I thought it would be interesting to see how, over the course of my life, I had changed.
After all, my Volkswagen is what it is… it will never be a Ferrari or a luxurious Mercedes-Benz.
My car is my buoy. My marker. I can judge how I have changed when I drive it.
Having had my car for 16 years I still love it dearly but had I never owned it I wouldn’t go out and get one today because I am a different person than I was then and the things I found appealing when I was 22 I do not find as interesting today.
Because I cannot own many cars (I have no place to put them or means to pay for them) I forced myself to not play The Grass Is Greener game and trade-in one car for another every few years. I also force myself not to throw out something unless it either breaks or outlives its usefulness.
I do not worry about what I own so I can focus on other things and it feels that a great burden has been lifted from my life.
This has taught me that where I stand in life is okay. I do not need to chase some idea of what other people expect me to be (why are you driving a 40 year old car for example) and thus forcing me to lead an insincere life.
I do not cave in to peer pressure for if somebody doesn’t like who I am there are 6 billion other people they can spend their time with.
When I was young I did not want to be an astronaut. I wanted to be an editorial writer and then, later, President of the United States. I see now that being President of the United States is not something I’d want to be. I wasn’t able to accept an internship with the International Herald Tribune in Paris working for the Editorial Department due to my university requirements but I have I always written.
I have no illusions that I am really changing the world but writing does provide me with a high degree of satisfaction.
And although I never met or spoke with Steve Jobs, I’m sure for every accomplishment he achieved (and there are many) there were probably at least 5 alternate roads he wished he’d gone down though I’m sure he was happiest in what he was doing.
So Steve Jobs transformed so many peoples’ lives for the better. My Android smartphone, which couldn’t have existed without the iPhone, allows me to make more money and simplify my life. My iPod gives me pleasure when I listen to my music in the car. My home built computer, which runs Windows (an interface heavily “borrowed” from the Macintosh) makes creating things so much easier. iTunes has allowed me to save money by only buying the songs I want and not being forced to purchase an entire album of bad songs.
For all these things I am very grateful.
Mr. Jobs really did help me.
But for all he did for me (and everybody else) in the end it’s more about what he’s allowed me to do than me not being a superstar like he was.
And about that whole people talking about you 100 years after your death thing… even people who changed the world like Thomas Edison (Electricity), Jonas Salk (Polio Vaccine), or Willis Carrier (Air Conditioning) are probably unknown by 99% of the people alive today.
At the end of the day I must always return to what Voltaire wrote at the end of Candide:
We must cultivate our garden.