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Steve Jobs: The story we’re afraid to write

Marc Anthony Rosa | Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Each and every one of us is given a pen, a very long notebook and one enduring mission: to write the story of our lives. Each of us is given a genuinely unbiased opportunity to ink the direction of the main character. We take this process for granted, that we can wait a few chapters before beginning to write the story that we wanted for ourselves since the beginning — a story about powerful journeys, bold choices or a path all alone save for you. We’ll look at today, but settle for tomorrow, scheduling a future full of experiencing real moments that our gut has quietly demanded for a very long time. Just carry around a pen, and it’ll be fine. Tomorrow will be perfect.

Last Wednesday, the story of Steve Jobs became complete with its own ending. The conclusion is a cliffhanger in its own right, abruptly bookmarking the space between the nonstop stream of words of the first half of the book and the hundreds of empty pages of the second half.

Of all of the stories and textbooks that I have read or studied, the novella of Steve Jobs is the most highlighted, tabbed, scribbled-upon and reread work that I own in my collection. I have posters in my room and diagrams on my computer about Apple or about Steve Jobs, illustrations that talk to the techniques that he employed throughout his life. I have studied the ways that he gained the grip of the world, held it so precociously and molded it into a beautiful milieu that is marked by technologies and ergonomics well-blended.

Out of it all, if there was something that I’ve captured from this material, the story of Steve Jobs’ life can be summarized, surprisingly, by one simple theme: a man’s unique understanding of his story’s definitive ending. What I captured from it all is that Steve Jobs fully understood that life was but two guaranteed moments — life and death — and that those moments were separated from each other by the chapters that he chose to write. He understood that his pages were capable of indefinite possibilities, but that the pages must always be bound between the main character’s first breath and last exhale.

There’s a very famous YouTube video of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address (one that received a record 8 million views in one day last week) that captures the beauty behind a potentially-melancholic outlook on life:

“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.”

Because of his early stroke with cancer — a moment that would ultimately come full-circle and take his life — Steve Jobs quickly understood how valuable a life is. Perhaps it was to create a legacy; perhaps it’s to prove something to his biological parents (Steve Jobs was adopted); but most likely, perhaps Steve Jobs understood how important it was to own himself and maximize his creative attributes as best as possible. He propelled himself completely and wholly forward into everything he worked with, and because of this, our world has changed, and people like me write things like this because we realize just how big of a loss this is.

What have I learned from all of this? Our time is limited. Each day must be penned as a story of living a life that I own, instead of a life wasted away in the form of someone else’s moments, while I wait for the perfect day to start writing. We each have an extremely strong inner voice that’s louder and more passionate than we’ve ever realized, shouting about what’s right or wrong with political dogma, theological creeds, sociological norms or even technological inefficiencies. Perhaps the most important lesson for me is not about just listening to your internal voice. Instead, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is that I must have the courage to follow my internal voice every single day. It’s an unbelievably difficult thing to do day in and day out. But by understanding that you truly have nothing to lose, I understand that doing nothing simply translates as a wasted page in what could be a tremendous story of my life.

Steve Jobs wrote his life story as if the next page was the conclusion. Steve Jobs followed his heart, and because of it, a generation of people eagerly listened and followed along. To Steve, tomorrow could have been the last day that he had on Earth to create something exceptional. And so, every day, he destroyed the boundaries of creativity and innovation, in an effort to maximize what could potentially be his last day on Earth.

Unfortunately, last week, he was right.

Each and every one of us is given one pen, one very long notebook and one perpetuating mission: to write the story of our lives.

What will you write about today?

Marc Anthony Rosa is a senior management entrepreneurship major. He can be reached at mrosa@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.