Everyone knows that Steve Jobs was a superlative businessman who created fabulous products that substantially changed the world. But he was much more than that. He was a businessman-philosopher, and the philosophy he embraced was the fundamental cause of his remarkable productivity, success, and happiness.
What was important to Jobs was not making money per se, but the process of creation. “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . that’s what matters to me.”
Doing something wonderful, in Jobs’ view, doesn’t mean doing something that others regard as worthy; it means doing what you love and pursuing a career that makes you happy. As he put it:
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.
To succeed in your chosen career, said Jobs, you must not accept ideas without truly understanding them. “To [do] something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.”
Jobs eschewed what Ayn Rand called second-handedness: unthinking acceptance of the views of others. He embraced first-handedness or independent thinking: a primary orientation not toward others’ opinions, but toward reality as you see it. “Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” he advised.
Jobs’ views were not arbitrary or floating; they were grounded in and arose from his recognition of the absolutism of reality, the preciousness of life, and the inevitability of death. As he explained: “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent.” He elaborated:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like, “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, 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.
In sum, Jobs’ philosophy holds that what matters most is figuring out what you love to do, passionately pursuing a career in that area, committing yourself to thoroughly understanding it, always going by your own judgment, monitoring how you spend your time, and continually adjusting your activities in order to achieve the greatest happiness possible.
We’ve seen the fruits of these ideas in Jobs’ life. Imagine what we’d see if his philosophy became as widely embraced as his other products.