As Paul Petrunia from Archinect put it, the world is a little less interesting now that Steve Jobs has passed away. I think that is the best way to put it. I won’t try to compose some penetratingly insightful quote about a man I know little about.
After watching a video about events taking place around Apple stores, people leaving flowers and notes outside Apple stores and outside is house it made me wonder. These people probably have seen his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech on YouTube, daily use a product designed by a company he ran, or maybe even watched a video of him unveiling the iPhone or iPad. But have any of these people ever spoken with Jobs? Have they tossed a frisbee on a hot summer afternoon with him? Have they spent an evening drinking beer and talking about religion and politics? Likely not. So how and why were so many people moved by his passing when they had no personal contact with him? Why is he so fascinating and influential?
One word. Clarity.
Not clarity of design intent, or of market knowledge. That stuff seems easy to post rationalize into a cherry picture when you look at the past. He may have had it, he may not. I don’t to know. But what is clear from his commencement speech is that he had clarity about life and death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — 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. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. – Stanford Commencement Speech 2005 (emphasis mine)
When you have a certain level of clarity about death, and in turn about life, the only way to live is to be hungry and foolish.