First, read this. And be sure to watch the video, if you haven’t already seen it. I’ll wait here.
Steve Jobs undeniably changed the landscape in which we move through our lives. Yes, I’m typing this on a Mac – a beat-up second-hand MacBook which I love more than its battered exterior would perhaps indicate, until you realize that that’s the result of my taking it everywhere with me, like a favorite stuffed toy worn threadbare* – while taking texts on my beloved iPhone. (In my household, my iPhone is known as “the magic box” – as in, “What else has that actor been in? Grab the magic box and look it up!”) I purchased my first iPod on the advice of a therapist, who thought an always-handy pocket-sized slice of digital escapism might help quell the negative self-talk I’m so prone to; while it might be exaggerating to say it saved my life, that proto-magic box certainly changed it.
This post isn’t about Apple, really. It isn’t an obituary for Steve Jobs. It is about that last thing, about the little experiences, decisions and encounters that change everything.
I have struggled on-and-off with depression my entire adult life, and recently, after a relatively long “good” stretch, it has been rearing its head again. It has been a tough year, work has been scarce, bills plentiful, and my optimism is failing. I’ve been allowing the asshole in my head to tell me that I’m not good enough to be successful at anything I love or want to do, that I don’t deserve what I want or need, that I shouldn’t bother trying; to slam the door on every idea and stop me before I begin. I am angry. I am afraid. I am paralyzed.
The last time I was sunk this deep, a friend invited me over for wine and and Fight Club, one of my all-time, top five films***. That movie, at that time, was pure serendipity for me; it sublimated concepts that numerous cognitive behavioral therapy books had not got through to me: You are not your job; you’re not how much money you have in the bank; you’re not the car you drive; you’re not the contents of your wallet… This is your life, and it’s ending, one minute at a time.
I wasn’t exactly a one-woman Project Mayhem, but applying a moderate proportion of Tyler Durden’s nihilism freed me to make choices and take risks instead of being frozen in doubt or guilt, and to channel the energy I’d been using to beat myself up into more creative and rewarding pursuits. I stopped thinking of “worth” and “meaning” as objective scales against which I would never measure up. It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything. I decided to do what felt right and see where that led.
It led to a lot of good things. It led to two mostly positive and productive years. But slowly, bit by bit, I forgot how to think like that. I gradually added responsibilities, obligations and attachments that seem to limit my capacity to take the personal and professional risks required for growth. I can’t afford success because I can’t afford failure. I start looking at call centre jobs and thinking that life is a dead end. I feel trapped and lose hope.
Then today, like that night watching Fight Club, I once again feel like I am getting the right message at the right time. The flood of inspirational Steve Jobs quotes and stories in the wake of his passing reminded me that, yes: life will, somewhere along the line, throw up a No Exit sign, and that’s the end of the road. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything interesting between here and there, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t make the journey as interesting as you want it to be.
It may seem strange, interspersing the dialogue of a fictional anti-corporate terrorist with the words of a real-life consumerist icon, but I see a common sentiment: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Though Tyler Durden may have disagreed with the particular way Steve Jobs changed the world (and vice versa), I think they would have respected each other’s philosophy.
In the video, Jobs talks about connecting the dots, about seemingly isolated moments that later form a complete picture. I don’t see this as fate, and I don’t think he did either – the picture is not waiting there, pre-formed, waiting for you to go through the paces; it emerges as you make your choices, and the further flung and more varied your dots, the more complex your picture will become. We cannot predict the future; we cannot discern the ways today sets the stage for tomorrow. We can make the most of right now.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.”
I am already naked. I have nothing to lose.
Thank you, Steve, for changing everything. Again.
* (I have a few of these, too. Orange Cat ceased to be very orange after countless snuggles, a number of trips cross-country, an accidental dousing in beer** and a number of wash cycles. In places there is barely enough structure to his fabric to hold the stuffing in.)
**(It is perhaps worth noting that Orange Cat was presented to me, brand new, while I was in college.) [back to text]
*** Bonus points if you catch the reference to one of the other five. [back to text]