Thursday, October 6, 2011
Realizing Your Greatness
The death of Steve Jobs has caused me to do a lot of soul searching today. I have seen a lot of press on the subject, and in my research (yes, I do research) I came across his commencement speech to Stanford in 2005, a year after he was diagnosed and treated for Pancreatic cancer. I have included this speech, in its entirety at the bottom of this blog and it has haunted me for many reasons - all good. Although, I must admit, that it has set off a virtual firestorm of questions in me about "realizing your greatness".
It is not a new concept to realize your greatness. There are a thousand books illustrating this point. What it really takes to realize your greatness is self-confidence, and that is what is so hard to come by. I think on the spectrum of realizing your greatness is when you surpass this point and you go on to realize your arrogance, and your eventual disillusionment. These are the pitfalls to avoid, I guess. I obviously haven't realized my greatness yet, or my blog would have a better masthead (among other things like spell and grammar checking).
There has been much press about Steve Jobs and his perfectionism and mercurial behavior. In an interview with the co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, (who coincidentally is a best friend of Kathy Griffin - Fun Fact), said that Steve Jobs did not start out as a perfectionist, but as Apple grew and began experiencing "growing pains" he became more of a "my way or the highway" type of person. So, given this equation, how can you realize your greatness, without compromising your values as a person? Just because you have one idea, doesn't mean that every idea you have is great, right? So, how does one decipher what is great and what is not? Perhaps the response to an idea warrants its greatness, then.
In that commencement speech to Stanford graduates in 2005, Jobs famously said, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice." But, what if that inner voice is delusional or wrong? What if you are way off base and yet you have a huge following? (read: Hitler or Dick Cheney.)
How about realizing your crazy? I would say that there is a trend toward flying your freak flag, at least in the general media right now, where ridiculousity (a new word I am trying to get into Websters, along with "natch", natch.) is celebrated. I mean, what is the value of Snooki, really? Yet she has just launched her own line of sunglasses (Snookishades, if you are interested). I guess she could have a book deal with a major publisher. Oh, that's right A Shore Thing, just came out. Oh, and let's not forget The Rules According to JWOWW: Shore-Tested Secrets on Landing a Mint Guy, Staying Fresh to Death, and Kicking the Competition to the Curb. (Or you could just ignore all this life lesson bullshit and be on a reality show in which you showcase what a dirty whore you are and then write books about said dirty whore behavior and set yourself up for life, I guess.)
ANYWAY, I, myself, find it very stressful to be a visionary. Especially when you have a mound of laundry everyday, not to mention all my "stories" I have to keep up with. My everyday life definitely hinders MY greatness, but I have been able to persevere as I sit right now in my basement, watch the Today Show, fire off texts and emails to my friends and associates (aka mothers of my childrens' friends), fold laundry, play on my daughter's ITouch with her, and simultaneously pontificate to all of you. I'd like to see Jobs do THAT, or Snooki, for that matter.
Seriously, you have to have a ton of self-confidence, even if you ARE great, to realize your dreams, especially if your dreams involve the acceptance of others in order to be successful. That is half of the battle, that no one ever talks about. Yes, Steve Jobs had an exceptional brain. It takes a very special person and set of intellectual properties to change the way people live their lives. But, it takes an extra special person to actually possess the confidence and the gumption, against opposition, to bring those ideas to the forefront and market them to the general public.
For instance, and I realize that I am drawing parallels between Steve Jobs and I, which puts me on the "delusional" part of the spectrum I mentioned above, but if I had not received positive feedback about this blog, I would probably not continue to do it. I could not imagine finally mustering the courage to go after my dream as a writer and everyone telling me that I suck at it, and then continuing to do it.
Although, I was the worst cheerleader in the universe, (If you are the chosen as the alternate to cheer for JV girls soccer, when you are a SENIOR, then you SUCK.) and I pursued that train wreck for three years. Seriously, do your children a favor, if they cannot do a back handspring or get any air when they attempt a jump, and they still want to be a cheerleader - for the love of GOD, steer them in another direction. But, then again, adversity teaches life lessons, and pursuing a dream, even an unrealistic one, builds character. So, is success in pursuance?
I distinctly remember practicing herkeys and the like, by jumping off of our third step leading to our back patio (otherwise my feet would never have left the ground), and my Dad pulling me aside to tell me that he was really proud of the way I was going after a goal, and practicing for it, all on my own. Why did my unrealistic dream, and the pursuit of that dream, make him proud? Because I was going for something, that is why. You don't ever achieve if you don't ever try.
Which begs another question, I guess, when do you stop chasing a dream? I think Steve Jobs would say "Never". There are many failed small businesses that were a great idea, but it was just bad timing, or poor management that did them in. But, then how do you decipher between a bad idea that fails, and a good idea that fails under the circumstances? I guess there are many elements to "realizing your greatness" rather than just believing in yourself. The point of it all, is that you will never be successful if you don't believe in yourself, whether you face adversity, or insecurity or whatever.
"... you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. "
Steve Jobs was an innovator because he made the everyday things we use better. You do not have to reinvent the wheel to be successful, you have to love what you do, and have the confidence to follow your dreams, as well. I think it is important to define "success" here, as well.
To me, success lies in the building of a dream, really. One of my favorite parts of Jobs' speech is as follows:
"Don't lose faith. 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. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work 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. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. 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."
I find Jobs' commencement speech so inspiring now, but I feel sure that if he had been the keynote speaker at the good ol' University of Kentucky in 1992, I would have yawned and checked my watch to see how long I had until the next kegger started. What a gift that speech was. I know that it is all over the internet right now, but I am compelled to include it in this post because I cannot stop thinking about it.
It has been a long time since someone has passed away, that I do not personally know, that I feel a huge loss for. I not only feel for his family, but I cannot help but feel for our generation, as well. In one news story, he was hailed as "the Edison of our generation," but to me, I think he was much more than that.
According to that speech, which I can only assume he wrote, he is also a very compassionate person who learns from his mistakes. It takes a very big person to publicly acknowledge that he was fired from his own company, and an even bigger person, to accept his role in that decision. He was what psychologists might call, "fully actualized", which (if you remember anything from Psych 101) is a term used to describe someone whose life is in balance, basically - personally, professionally, spiritually, and philosophically.
There are a lot of so called "successful businessmen" in the World today, but very few of them were true visionaries, who also had the capability to look inward at themselves when they made mistakes, and learn from them.
I guess Time magazine literally stopped it's presses (an apparent unprecedented event) to put Jobs on the cover and feature a synopsized version of his authorized biography by Walter Isaacson, that is pending. It's publish date has been pushed up to late October and pre orders have be soaring.
Until this book comes out, you may want to check out Chasing Daylight: How my forthcoming death transformed my life. It is one of the most moving autobiographies I have ever read, detailing the heartbreaking decline in health, following a brain tumor diagnosis of KPMG's CEO, Eugene O'Kelley. My husband turned me on to it, and I have passed it on to many of my friends, and now I want to share it with you. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Oh, and realize your greatness. "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." - Steve Jobs
Rest in Peace. Your impact and our loss are immense.