This evening the announcement that Steve Jobs passed away is lighting up the web and television. I never knew him, but I am a fan. In the moments that passed following the news of his death, I scanned Twitter and found it exploding with the news. I put my kids to bed and retired to my office where I continued to surf the web and re-watch the great public moments punctuating his legacy.
As a Veteran with PTSD my favorite youTube clip is his Stanford Commencement Address. Here are some of the high points from the end of that speech:
“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….”
“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 others’ 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.””
Insert Mikey Here
I am by no means the next Steve Jobs, but I do aspire to be a great influencer of man. In reflection, I can certainly relate to his experience with facing death and the freedom it can grant. But, there are some big differences about from where Steve and I learned our lessons on Death. Subsequently, my motivation has different roots not generated from a quote, but from the angry end of a gun.
A little over seven years ago I stepped off a C-130 into the heart of Iraq. Not a day later I faced Death and stepped through a door I could never retreat through.
Where Steve faced his own death at the mercy of cancer, I, like my fellow combat Veterans, faced it at the hands of my fellow man. It has made me jaded and cynical. Facing Death motivated me to live each day like it was my last, but in a primal way by taking great strides to ensure that I lived when I faced my fellow man by matching his evil violence in kind. It is an ugly lens to look through at the world.
Steve talks about the idea of Death erasing everything except what is truly important, but he never explicitly states what that important thing is. He alludes to love, family, freedom and others, but he doesn’t say what is important. I think part of power and brilliance of his speech is that he leaves the idea of “important” to the listener. Still, if you have never deeply pondered death or faced it, you will not fully grasp his words.
It has only been recently, after years of therapy, that I can listen to Steve’s words and take them as advice to act on. My Death is tactile. My Death has a scent and feeling of extreme anger and terror. I don’t need a mirror to pose a question each morning because my mind’s eye reminds me of alternatives to a lack of motivation every night as I try to sleep.
Not a few years ago most days I thought PTSD would rob me of my ability to make an impact on this world. It interfered with every aspect of my life. I have had to relearn how to act and cope and love. I am forever changed, but I am also forever changing. I looked at Death and found what is important to me. I am coming back, changed and stronger.
Steve Job had it right to look at Death as a motivator. The truly hard part is to understand and act on it. Thank you Steve Jobs for leaving a tool to inspire and motivate me.
Rest in Peace.