The online world entered a period of collective mourning last night with the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The 24-hour news networks went into eulogy mode – something they seem to do with shocking alacrity, as if they are just waiting for certain people to die.
Internet news sites, for once, were a little slow to catch up. After all, it takes longer to type one’s reaction than to merely say it in front of a camera. In fact, as CNN.com was breaking the news in a one-sentence headline across the top of the page, their top story was still the perceived disappointment that is the iPhone 4s. Such was the legacy of the man that a phone that responds to conversational speech much as the Enterprise did to Captain Kirk is considered a let-down. He spoiled us.
It was fitting in a way that Facebook and Twitter were the epicenters of this collective grief. Using devices either built by Apple or made possible by Apple’s industry-leading innovations, we gathered in the virtual parlor to comfort one another. Newsfeeds and timelines streamed with expression of shock and loss … and gratitude for the positive ways in which Mr. Jobs changed our lives.
I won’t go into a timeline of his accomplishments or a list of the devices he championed. Chances are you’re using one right now or will be using one before the day is out. (I’m typing this on a Mac Pro.)
Instead, I’d like to focus on Jobs’ legacy of words.
Shortly after the initial flurry of posts grappling with the fact of Jobs’ death, began a series of posts quoting him. Most of these quotes would fall neatly under the broad category heading of “How to Be an Iconoclast.”
“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.”
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
In response to this flood of inspirational quotes from a truly inspirational man, I posted the following:
“I keep seeing all these Steve Jobs quotes about being an iconoclast, but try living that way. It’s all ‘Get a real job, Wayne. Pay your bills, Wayne. Put on some pants, Wayne.'”
Yes, my tongue was planted firmly in cheek when I wrote that, but there’s an acerbic bit of truth there. The fact is that 99% of the people who posted quotes from Steve Jobs don’t actually live in the manner his words describe. There’s a reason for that: they might fail.
I speak from experience.
I’m one of those people who grew up believing in the power of following one’s dreams. I was the weirdo, the misfit. If the trend was to go left, I made a point of going right. I believed in ideas like thinking differently, pursuing your vision at all costs and trying to change the world.
Now, I’m no Steve Jobs. I’m not an inventor. Gadgets are not really my purview. I’m a storyteller. I want to change the world through images and words and ideas. But I am no Walt Disney, George Lucas, Jim Henson or Mark Twain, either. And I’m not talking about my level of talent or skill. (Who am I to judge those things, really?) I’m talking about success.
We quote these great innovators, these “agents of change” to embrace the popular parlance, as if we think that the only thing that sets them apart from the rest of us is the willingness to view the world in a different way. If only we could be bold enough to have dreams and pursue them like these men did, we too could change the world.
But the fact is we quote them because they were successful. What if Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had built the first Apple computer (which they did), been turned down by Atari in their efforts to give the computer to the company in exchange for employment (which they were) and turned down by HP because they didn’t have college degrees (again, they were) and then set out to create their own computer company … only to see it fail miserably?
There’s no doubt Jobs would have landed somewhere, programming and designing for some other tech company, aggravating bosses all along the way with his irascible personality. He probably would have had no shortage of great ideas. And someone else would have taken them, watered them down, run them through a committee and robbed them of their very soul before they ever reached the masses. Few outside the industry would’ve known his name. He probably would’ve been influential within his field and very rich. But we wouldn’t be quoting him.
The point is, for every Jobs, Disney, Henson or Ford, there are thousands upon thousands of smart, driven, relentless “idea men” out there pursuing life on their own terms, stubbornly holding onto their dreams … despite the odds and the repeated failures. They eschew ideas like stability, security, 401Ks, college funds and retirement. They continue to buck the norm by refusing to “do what’s smart” or “get real jobs.”
And it hurts. Trust me.
At some point, I suppose I may have to look at my life and think, “Maybe I’m too old to keep pursuing my vision, to outdated to keep chasing my dreams.” There have been times I’ve been tempted: when times are hard, when people betray me in business, when the harsh realities of life undermine my attempts to take my dreams to the next level.
But I keep going.
I keep writing. I keep making underfunded, little-seen films. I keep pitching TV shows … and creating silly websites about being a Real Southern Man.
I don’t recommend it to everyone. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Is it a lost cause? Maybe. But we Southern men love nothing more.
I leave you with one more quote, this one a little more eternal than the words of our generation’s greatest innovator. This one is about keeping your dreams and vision in check … by holding them up to a higher authority:
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18, ESV