THE BLOG

Steve Jobs' Lessons For Women

11/03/2011 05:38 pm ET | Updated Jan 03, 2012
  • Barbara & Shannon Kelley Speakers; Coauthors, "Undecided: How To Ditch The Endless Quest For Perfect and Find The Career--and Life--That's Right For You"

Of all the words that have been spoken or written (ours included) about Steve Jobs in the past few weeks, the wisest and most meaningful may have come from the eulogy delivered by his sister, novelist Mona Simpson, who recently shared it with the New York Times.

By now, you have probably read Simpson's opening:

Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I'd thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

And you probably know Jobs' final words, with which Simpson ended her eulogy:

OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.

But what's stashed between those bookends is genius: a number of life lessons that apply to so many of us, especially women, as we try to figure out where and how we fit into our changing world. We women have come a long way in a short amount of time, with no real roadmaps -- or even many role models -- to guide us as we try to figure out the balance between the expectations of our evolving roles and a world that hasn't quite caught up. As we heard from one of the women we interviewed for our book, a poet, nonprofit grant writer, schoolboard member and new mother:

"I wonder if some of our frustration is about the fact that it's virtually impossible to excel at everything -- wife, writer, teacher, runner, in my case -- and so we're always worried about the area in which we're not measuring up to our own expectations. Maybe it's that society is telling us all that we have to be successful career women -- but the world has forgotten to mention that if we want to do that, we can let go of worrying about our pound cake. Or maybe it's just that the mold of womanhood has been broken, and now it's up to all of us to make up our own versions. That's incredibly empowering -- because it means we get to make things up as we go along -- but also scary and hard."

And so, because we're still learning how to navigate the trade-offs, when it comes to making choices on how to live our lives we often rely on shoulds and expectations -- and spend a lot of our time wondering "what if." Nasty business, most of the time, that takes us out of the moment, and into the netherworld of grass-is-greener. We second guess ourselves, contemplating what might have been, and worrying about whether we measure up.

All of which brings us back to Mona Simpson and the lessons she learned from her big brother Steve who, on top of everything else, truly appreciated the wonder in life. If it's a roadmap we need, it's a good one to follow:

• Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day.

• He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn't ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn't have to be.

• His philosophy of aesthetics reminds me of a quote that went something like this: "Fashion is what seems beautiful now but looks ugly later; art can be ugly at first but it becomes beautiful later." Steve always aspired to make beautiful later.

• He was willing to be misunderstood.

• He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.

• With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun. He treasured happiness.

What you find, if you distill those lessons, is a simple recipe for living life to the fullest, whether or not we ever achieve iconic and/or genius status (note: most likely we won't): Work hard. Follow your heart -- even if failure is a distinct possibility. Be patient (art versus fashion, remember?). Treasure the moment.

And appreciate the wonder.

It all resonates, actually, with one of Apple's earliest slogans, borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

As with Apple, so with life? Oh wow.