Mark David Gerson
Steve Jobs's True Legacy
"...the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do..."
~ John 14:12
"Follow your bliss."
~ Joseph Campbell
"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don't fence me in."
~ Cole Porter
I was packing up to leave Starbucks from an afternoon's writing on Wednesday when I heard about Steve Jobs's death. The news came to me in a terse email notice from the MyAppleSpace social network. The subject line read "Steve Jobs is dead."
Incredulous, I thought it was a hacker's prank. Only when I had double-checked the news against a reliable source could I bring myself to believe it.
Like many, I received and verified the news about Jobs on products he had pioneered. For me it was a MacBook Pro laptop and an iPhone.
And like so many around the world, I was grief struck.
Here was a man who had spent most of his life bucking the system, never letting fear or conventional wisdom get in the way of what he knew to be right and true. Nor did he ever permit the legions of critics and pundits who declared him foolhardy and misguided to stop him from following the path he knew in his heart to be the correct one.
Was he a saint? Hardly. Few geniuses are. Could he be cruel and cutting? Apparently so, for he is reputed to have had little patience for those who doubted or stood in the way of his passionate vision.
Few in the Western world remain untouched by that vision. Even those who swear they will never touch an Apple product have been affected by the revolutions in computing and music distribution that he incited.
Did he change the world? Absolutely. Did he do it uncompromisingly and on his own terms? Undoubtedly.
Is his greatest legacy the products and software systems he engineered? Not hardly.
Through the day or so following Steve Jobs's death, I was deeply moved, sometimes to tears, but the outpouring of love, respect and grief for this man. But by Friday night, as I scrolled through the unending stream of Jobs tributes and Jobs quotes in my Facebook news feed, something about it all began to trouble me.
Don't get me wrong. The sentiments expressed were true and powerful, and I clicked the "like" button on many of them.
But I began to wonder, as I read them all, how often we latch onto the words and lives of others as a way to avoid expressing our own words and living our own lives.
Back in 2006 while visiting Toronto, I was privileged to attend a Barbra Streisand concert. It was a performance that more than filled the city's vast Air Canada Centre. I wrote about that experience here two years ago, in a post titled Larger Than Life.
"Whatever you think of Barbra Streisand's talent or personality," I wrote, "when you are in her energy field, you touch that [limitlessness of your soul's natural state] and your soul cries out, 'Me too! That's who I am, too!!'
"Here in the Western world, where we have been taught to play small, we transfer all of our natural desire for the fenceless world of a life lived large to our movie stars and sports heroes.
"If we can't play out our own passion and power, we play it out through a celebrity cult that's no healthier than any other cult, one we also find in countries with charismatic leaders/dictators, in religions with unapproachable gods and in all situations where we abdicate the expression of our infinite nature to someone or something outside of ourselves."
How much of the grief for Jobs, I began to wonder, is not about the death of a brilliant man whose visions touched so many but about the death of a figure who publicly lived so much of the courage, vision, sense of purpose and uncompromising adherence to inner truth that so many of us shrink from in our own lives.
Steve Jobs was not unusual. We all have the same access to the same infinite pool of wisdom, courage, purpose and inner truth that he did...not to mimic his journey and follow his bliss, but to uncover and follow our own...wherever it might carry us.
In my novel, The MoonQuest, very much a metaphor for all our journeys, the main character, Toshar, is destined for a greatness he continues to resist. Yet destiny, as he is constantly reminded, is not cast in stone. There is always a choice.
"Every choice you have ever made," Toshar is told, "has led to this moment...of choice."
"The power to choose is always ours," I wrote in Larger Than Life. "In every moment and through every situation, we're offered the opportunity to choose our greatness, our passion, our light."
The best tribute to Steve Jobs is to not quote his words but to live them, to not restate his wisdom but to find and write your own, to not honor the choices of his heart but to listen to and honor the choices of yours, to not look backward but to live in the present moment as you step forward into the next.
It's time to awaken your vision. It's time to rekindle your passion. It's time to live your greatness.
If that becomes Steve Jobs's legacy, the revolution in each of our lives -- and in the world -- will only have just begun.