We All Can Be Steve Jobs In the Way That Matters Most

The question isn’t what makes Mr. Jobs delightfully unique. The question is what do we have in common with him. What is there about his remarkable insights and achievements that we share, and therefore can learn from and take action on?

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: fancy pants man with heart-shaped head stepping into the future
In the wake of his death, the all-but-exclusive focus on the “super-specialness” of Steve Jobs can be a disservice to him and us.

It’s kind of like Jesus or Buddha or history’s great saints.  If they’re special because God tapped them on the noggin and said, “I hereby anoint you Wonderful Beyond Measure,” what the hell good are they to us?  They provide no example we can apply to our life.  The question isn’t what makes Mr. Jobs delightfully unique.  The question is what do we have in common with him.  What is there about his remarkable insights and achievements that we share, and therefore can learn from and take action on?

My iPad was first to bring me news of Mr. Jobs death via the New York Times front page.  Tapping the screen to head deeper into the story, I accidentally brought up a report of a monk in Tibet who had immolated himself in protest of Chinese religious oppression.  After reading that story, I returned to the account of Mr. Jobs’ life, then wondered, hmmm, who else died today?

Number two to Mr. Jobs in the obits was the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, 89, a leading civil rights figure and companion of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Reverend Shuttlesworth, considered a pioneer of non-violent direct action, was a leading organizer in 1963 of the civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama which sparked some of the most vicious, deadly reactions by whites.  Some historians contend that when the city attacked the movement’s demonstrators with fire hoses and police dogs, President Kennedy was given the moral authority he needed to introduce legislation abolishing legal segregation.  That legislation became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There are no accidents in my world, which is far from saying I know the meaning of very much.  But I do feel the universe is ever-encouraging us to pay attention.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that that’s all the universe does, since paying attention long and deeply enough leads to love, in my experience.  Hence, I looked for the lesson common to these stories.

Commitment.  Not desire.  Not intention.  Commitment.  That’s what defines our life more than almost anything else.  Every commitment, no matter what it is: noble (being a good parent), self-destructive (running a dozen marathons a year), or goofy (singing the notes represented by the numerals in every license plate we pass)––imposes on us those obligations necessary to fulfill it.  However we define “good parent,” for instance, we’re obliged to act on that definition.  It’s an obligation imposed on us only by ourselves.

The late swami Yogananda was a cheerleader of doing what he termed brave and lovely things left undone by the majority of humankind.  What all of us of sound mind share with Steve Jobs, the Tibetan monk and Reverend Shuttlesworth is the capacity to do the bravest and loveliest thing a human being can, if you ask me: commit to who we will be or die trying.

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