In Memoriam: Steve Jobs

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 6, 2011

I fell in love with computers thanks to Steve Jobs; when I was first exposed to them as a 7th grader, I learned the basics of commands and simple programming on an Apple II, whose mere image stirs fond memories. Thanks to my exposure to the Apple II, I considered “Apple” to be synonymous with “computers,” and when the Macintosh came out, there was no question but that my family would get one. We did not know what PCs were, and thanks to Jobs and his wonderful toys, we didn’t care.

I didn’t switch to PCs until later in life, and while they were not as bad as I feared that they would be (and while the switch was almost necessitated because of the decline of Apple as a company in the 1990s), PCs never had the magic and luster for me that Steve Jobs’s creations had. I am typing this blog post out on a PC, but I still consider myself an exile from the Kingdom of Jobs, and one day, I shall return to the Promised Land.

I have known for a while that Jobs was a sick man–who in the civilized world didn’t?–but it still comes as a shock to me that he has died. Of course, I had hoped for Jobs’s sake that he would go on living, and it is a shame that he was taken from us at so young an age. But I must confess that I feared Steve Jobs’s death in part because for me, it would signify–in some sense–yet another sign that my own youth has come to an end.

And I suspect I am not alone in that sentiment, self-centered though it may be. Many of us in our youth became technophiles thanks to Steve Jobs. His inventions were and are as brilliant as they were and are aesthetically beautiful. And even if one does not use an Apple product, Apple’s influence is impossible to escape; it would be ridiculous to deny that the design and functionality of my HTC Inspire Android smartphone does not draw heavily from the example of the iPhone. Jobs gave us pathbreaking inventions, year after year, and he made those inventions both lovely to behold, and indispensable. The tech world has advanced by quantum leaps and bounds thanks to Jobs’s career–short though it was. He was our era’s Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Leonardo da Vinci. We shall miss him terribly.

Jobs taught us much about life by the way he lived it. He taught us about death as well. Many a commentator has remarked on Jobs’s marvelous 2005 address to the graduating class at Stanford University. Let those words be the epitaph of a remarkable man, and a remarkable life:

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.

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.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

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. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. 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. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

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