When I saw a photo online, purportedly showing a frail Steve Jobs, taken after his resignation as Apple's CEO, I was terribly sad and hoping it was not true. The man in the picture looked unable to walk without assistance. His body was so thin that you did not need a medical degree to believe you were seeing someone very close to death. Bloggers attacked the snapshot as a mean-spirited photoshopped fake but Pacific Coast News, which released the picture, issued a second, similar photograph. In a statement they said, "These have not been doctored in any way... regardless of what you may have read online."
I never had the privilege of meeting Steve Jobs. I don't pretend to know him. But he has changed my life and the lives of tens of millions of people, for the better. He reshaped the way we view and use technology. But his real lessons were encapsulated in a single speech he gave in 2005, to the graduating class of Stanford University. In a quiet, self-effacing manner, Jobs noted that, as a college dropout, it was the closest he had ever gotten to a college graduation.
"Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith," he told those young graduates. He recounted stories of his adoption at birth, leaving school and starting Apple Computer in a garage and his ouster from the company he founded, before making his triumphant and historic return. A year before this speech, Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and his doctor told him to get his affairs in order and to start saying his goodbyes. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, the rumors of Jobs' demise were greatly exaggerated and some of his greatest achievements were still years away.
Jobs told those young kids that facing death changed his life and helped him make the big choices he needed to make. "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." That is clearly what Jobs did. Not only was he richer because of it, so are we.
I know first hand what Jobs was talking about. A few years ago, I faced my own death, not because of a physical illness but an emotional one. Depression had nearly prompted me to take my own life before an epiphany allowed me to face my mortality and use it as a guide for how to live each day. I wrote about my experiences in The Last Day of My Life. In his speech, Jobs put it this way, "Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent."
While I remain hopeful that Jobs has many years ahead and more tricks still up his sleeve, that disturbing photo prompted me to try and quantify his enormous legacy. I suspect that it is not iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, the Mac, nor even Apple or Pixar. Perhaps it is the simple mantra he adopted from the final publication of The Whole Earth Catalog in 1972, which eventually lead him to all those amazing creations he gave to the world. "Stay Hungry. Stay foolish." Jobs used those four words to conclude his commencement address, but more importantly, he embraced their simple, underlying philosophy to foster and nurture his own dreams. His real gift is not seeing the world as it is, but as it can be and making those dreams a reality.
Thank you, Steve Jobs.