There was only one Steve Jobs, and it’s easy to see why we’re so fascinated with him. A twin separated at birth; a visionary who made products that changed how we use technology; a college dropout who studied coding and calligraphy for fun; a wisdom seeker who spent months wandering India barefoot in a sarong. Oh, and after a long flirtation with sweater vests and bow ties, a man who wore a black turtleneck and blue jeans everywhere he went.
As if that weren’t enough, Jobs was also a master salesman and a fantastic orator, and much of what he had to say carried astonishing wisdom, especially coming from someone who devoted his life to creating consumer electronics products. Of course, that’s the point. Apple is much more than just a remarkably successful manufacturer of electronic devices, and Jobs was much more than a remarkably successful entrepreneur.
In presentation after presentation, at Macworld, his unforgettable Stanford commencement speech, and elsewhere, Jobs shared insights that will remain useful for decades to come or more. Here’s the best of what he had to say:
1. “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I love this quote so much, I wrote a whole column about it. It’s hard to hold yourself to that standard, but it’s important to try. If you’re reading this page, you have choices about what to do with your life. Choose wisely, because you only get the one.
2. “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.”
An especially important lesson for entrepreneurs. You can’t start a business, project, or other large undertaking knowing how you will solve every problem that arises, or how your skills and assets, plus those of your co-workers, might combine to create something wonderful. But you have to trust that they will. As someone wise once said, it’s like driving a car at night. At any given moment, you can only see as far as your headlights will allow, but you can make the whole trip that way.
3. “Focus is about saying no.”
This is an important insight, because what you say no to may wind up mattering even more than what you say yes to in your career. We tend to start out saying yes to everything. Every opportunity, every new job, new project, or new partnership, seems worth pursuing. But real success comes from knowing what to say no to. Remember the first quote—our time on this planet is limited, our work time and resources even more so. Being careful to spend them wisely will benefit your business and career more than nearly anything else.
4. “Often, the people who are successful loved what they did so they could persevere when things got really tough. The ones that didn’t love it quit—cause they’re sane.”
As people smarter than I have observed, you can achieve just about anything you want if you are willing to hear no often enough. Most of us don’t have the thick skin, confidence, or determination that has enabled some of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs to get a running start. Those who do have that perseverance are likelier to wind up on top.
5. “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”
Jobs was on to something here, because too many people are too quick to rest on their past successes, or focus on their current ones, rather than keep watching the horizon for the next opportunity or threat. It’s a dangerous strategy. Just ask Kodak.
6. “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
Jobs talked about how his model for business was the Beatles and how they balanced each other so that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. And then he went on to this quote, which goes to the heart of his point.
Jobs wasn’t just repeating lines about teamwork and great employees that every large-company CEO has uttered at some point. He really lived it, surrounding himself with the best performers he could. And it shows in Apple’s continued success years after his passing.
7. “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.”
Likening finding work he loved to finding a person he loved is very revealing about how Jobs thought. And it’s something all entrepreneurs, and maybe all people, should aspire to. Jobs was right: Life is too short to spend a third of our days on work we don’t like, or don’t care about. Loving what you do is not a luxury; it’s a necessity for a happy life.
8. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
Jobs said this about his very public—and devastating—ouster from Apple, when the company’s board voted to fire him, siding with then-CEO Jon Sculley. Though he couldn’t see it then, he said, “getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
9. “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.”
External expectations, pride, and fear of embarrassment or failure all drop away in the face of death. Jobs had the rare talent, or maybe the spiritual discipline, to keep the shortness of his life front and center in his mind nearly every day. It’s an uncomfortable mental state—but it can be very liberating and lead to great creativity. And it can help you stop being afraid of things that really don’t deserve to frighten you.
10. “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
If you remember that you’re going to die, and that you have nothing to lose, there is no reason not to follow your heart, Jobs said. Letting his intuition take him where it wanted him to go—to calligraphy class, or off to India—let him live what turned out to be an extraordinary life. Just think what it could do for you.
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Photo of Steve Jobs courtesy of Featureflash/Shutterstock.