Many of you know that I spent near a year of my life working for what I consider to be the best company, ever. Never had I felt so valued by those above and beside me and never was I so full of purpose that every day I came to work knowing I was going to change lives. The time I spent at Apple contains some of the greatest memories and friendships I was ever privileged to cultivate. Even though its been a couple of months since I was last lucky enough to pull on that shirt and lanyard todays news hit me at a deeper level.
I never met him. I never knew him. I never came close. But being a part of the Apple family made me feel like he was the patriarch of our clan. The one we were all somehow connected to and the one we all looked to for the next big thing. And although he stepped down six weeks ago and the torch was successfully passed to Tim Cook, he was always the one we looked to fondly for inspiration.
Being a part of the retail section of the company came with its struggles. Launch days aside, it seemed most days we never had a free moment. Busy as busy can be and even then some. Feet hurt, voice almost gone, but we still pushed on. Helping people, repairing relationships, and creating new ones so that someones life might be changed. It was what we did. Its what Apple does. Its what made Steve who he was in the minds of all of us who have been affected by him.
And now he’s gone. Like everyone else eventually will, Steve has passed. As the world began to mourn the loss of one who irrevocably changed it, a friend of mine posted this on his Facebook. “Steve Jobs was an inspiring man and I loved his products. But I think it there is something telling about hundreds of thousands of people tweeting and status updating him in memoriam with their expensive Apple tech while daily thousands die hungry, cold, homeless, lonely, Godless, amidst war, terror, famine, and strife, having never made a buck, much less millions, or a popular impact. But the question is: Should they need to do those things in order to garner our blood, sweat, and tears?”
At first I was a little frustrated because of the connection I felt to him. The connection I know others who have or still don that blue shirt feel. But despite that frustration I knew he was right. People die every day. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Death happens every day to those who know its coming and to those who are surprised by it. And although I am not one to romanticize death and pretend it doesn’t suck I have to admit that sometimes I feel one death matters more to me than another. But it shouldn’t.
John Donne famously penned…
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
This quote has shaped me in ways I cannot begin to explain because it recognizes that we are all a part of this broken thing we call humanity. We are all involved. Steve Jobs. Matt Borrasso. The guy on the street. The kid in the mansion. All of us. And when one of us goes, a part of us all goes with them. Its easy to forget the masses that die each day because they often perish away from news cameras and social media outlets but their deaths are no less tragic.
One of the hallmark ads of Apple was “Think Different.” That famous campaign epically changed the landscape of Apples image and launched it into the next decade. But for me its not the computer that makes the ad powerful, its the notion that there are crazy ones. There are those who think different and they are the ones to change the world. So the question is, if Steve did it, if MLK did it, if so many others have irrevocably changed the world why can’t I? Why can’t we all?
The world will never become a utopia. It will never be the idealized society thought about by many visionaries and philosophers but that doesn’t mean it can’t change and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We may never be able to end abuse but we can make a difference in the lives of those who experienced it. We may never be able to end world hunger but that doesn’t mean we can’t feed those in our neighborhood who hunger. We may never be able to end poverty but that doesn’t mean we ignore those who don’t sleep under a roof or have a computer to blog from.
So often I think its easy to be blindsided by the big picture. Problems are too big for me to handle. The situation is too far gone. Its a futile effort, after all we are all going to die anyway. And speaking of death, I’m so afraid of it I can’t actually get past the idea that life isn’t about me. That fear is paralyzing. That fear that we won’t be remembered. That once we draw that last breath its all over so I need to get the most of my life that I can. That fear that reminds us the problems are too big.
Perhaps its is best then to return to the man that I started writing about, to Steve. In his address to Stanford in 2005 Steve spoke the following, “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.”
Death and fear are not something to run from, but something to confront. That is truly what thinking different is all about. Knowing that life is going to throw you more curve balls than you can hit. Knowing that problems are too big for one person to handle. Knowing that in the end I might actually be forgotten and choosing in the face of that to change the world is truly revolutionary. But it isn’t easy. Its going to take the crazy ones. The square pegs in the round holes. Those who defy conventional wisdom. The ones who think they might actually be able to change the world.