People of all ages and lifestyles, from Caribou to China and beyond, have been touched forever by the mind of Steve Jobs, the Apple computer founder and visionary who died on Oct. 5 at a youthful age 56. Few generations, however, will benefit more from the guiding light of his vision than young Americans, including many Mainers, now in school.
None of them will need a MacBook, iPod or iPad – all part of Jobs’ legacy – to link to the core of his greatness. All they’ll need is that oldest of communication tools – words.
Six years ago, on June 12, 2005, Jobs stood before graduating seniors at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., not far from his own relatively modest home. He had something to tell the young people about leadership and success. And the wisest among them listened carefully. His words said a lot about preparing for leadership then, and they say a lot today.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick,” the 50-year-old Jobs said as the California sun beamed down on the outdoor commencement. His language was plain-spoken, unlike the high-flying rhetoric so many graduation speakers deploy. But Jobs was speaking of a tough time in his life, sharing his reaction as it had been, warts and all, when he was fired briefly from Apple a few decades earlier.
“Don’t lose faith,” he said fervently. “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”
That quest, Jobs emphasized, is the path to attainment.
“Your work,” he cautioned the graduates, “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.
“As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it,” he promised. “And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
Stay open. Don’t settle. That’s advice for a life well lived.
Moreover, it’s the kind of advice young women and men need to hear in a time when events happen on such a gigantic scale that any ambition to shape them seems futile. Confidence to pick up that challenge has particular relevance for young women.
The story that Jobs sketched for students doesn’t run on fast-forward. It moves at a different pace. Meg Waite Clayton, a novelist and lawyer, recently looked back on her own expectations in 1981 when Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and she herself was in her first year in law school.
“I was sure O’Connor’s appointment was the first major drop in what would become a bucketful of women stepping into leadership roles,” Clayton revealed in the Los Angeles Times.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. “The subsequent rounds of barrier breaking have taken a long time,” Clayton acknowledged. “The pipeline is slow and leaky, to be sure, but progress is being made.”
The progress was there to be observed in a kind of negative image this fall when news outlets in the Mideast reported that a Saudi woman in her 30s had been sentenced to 10 lashes with a whip for defying her country’s prohibition against a woman driving a car. Look at those words again: A Woman Driving A Car. Such an ancient punishment for such a routine modern activity boggles the mind. Yet a woman in Saudi Arabia has been directed to endure it. Clearly, such a law requires action from women to change it.
It’s the kind of commitment Steve Jobs would understand.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” Jobs told Stanford graduates in 2005. “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.”
One person poised to follow Jobs into that promising world of achievement is Kassandra Hopkins of Vinalhaven. The rural Maine girl this year became one of five national winners of a prized $250,000 Leonore Annenberg scholarship to attend any college or university after she graduates from high school next year.
May she use it well. A world of opportunities is waiting.