Every once in awhile you come across something the touches the very core of your existence. It causes you to step back and take a good, hard look at your life. It may inspire you to make a dramatic change, or it may affirm decisions already made.
About six months ago, I had one of these moments. While Stumbling around on the Interwebs, I came across a commencement speech Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, gave at Stanford University in 2005. I have watched this video about 20 times since that day.
In this single 15 minute speech, Jobs more or less sums up the principles to leading a fucking awesome life. The ideas are not unique, I’ve come across every single one from multiple sources.
Here’s the interesting thing- each and every person that talks about these principles is leading an awesome life on their own terms. Repetition can be powerful. When we see the same message repeated again and again, the message has validity. Since I started following Jobs’ advice, my life has changed dramatically. It has been an amazing ride thus far, and the future looks even more exciting.
I’m sharing Jobs’ words in hopes others will find the same inspiration I did. I know some of my readers will take every word to heart and will immediately begin implementing some of the ideas he discusses. I also know some of you will agree with what Jobs has to say, but will not really take it to heart. That’s okay. At some point in the future you’ll have a
breakdown epiphany about your life, remember this video, and come back to it.
At any rate, watch the video before reading on. If you do not have time to watch the video, wait until you do have time to really absorb Jobs’ message. His words are more powerful than my own.
In case the video isn’t embedded, here’s the link.
Pretty powerful, huh?
Jobs gives some amazing advice. I have tried my best to implement various aspects of this speech into my life. I found a few activities, or “challenges”, helped me think about these ideas and develop a plan to put them to use. Here are the ideas that REALLY resonate with me:
“Trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”
I make a lot of seemingly random decisions without too much thought about future implications. Part of this stems from my newly adopted “planning is guessing” philosophy from Rework. Part of it is simply my nature.
We spend too much time weighing our decisions without really following our heart. That thought process leads us to take the “safe” route, which is rarely the path we really want to take. Once we free ourselves of that worry, we start making decisions based on passion, not logic. Passion will get you places.
I’ve found these seemingly random decisions have made a tremendous impact on my life. When I have to make a decision, I just follow my principles and passion and trust the dots will connect. So far, so good.
Challenge #1: Do one thing today that defies all logic but is something you REALLY want to do.
“Follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.”
This is pure gold for the non-conformist. I’m pretty comfortable marching to the beat of my own drum. Unfortunately humans are followers. We do what everyone else does. We like our well-worn paths. Why? It’s safe and easy. If we never push our limits and really explore who we are, we can busy ourselves with the minutia of that well-worn path. If confronted with a choice to start writing a novel or take the kids to soccer practice, most of us choose soccer. Why? It’s safe and easy.
When I started barefoot running, NOBODY was doing it locally. In fact, I only knew about 20 or so people that were doing in in the entire country. There were more, but those 20 were the only people on the ‘Web. Was it easy? Not at all. I stuck with it, though. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.
Challenge #2: Make a list of three things you want to do before you die. Pick the one that will be easiest to accomplish if you start today. Now actually start working toward that one thing today.
“You’ve got to find what you love. The only way you’ll be satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. 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.”
This is a tough one for me. I know what I love: teaching, running, writing, learning, and travel. The difficult part has been incorporating all of these in my life. For a long time I tried to accomplish each one individually. I love teaching so I taught high school. I love running so I ran in my free time. I love writing so I started blogging about running. I love learning so I watch a lot of TV (hey, I’m lazy, too.) And travel… well, I did that when possible.
I found I enjoyed each one MUCH more if I combined them. For example, teaching about running was much better than teaching history. This epiphany led me to a goal- seek out a life path that will allow me to combine all off my passions. The result- Shelly and I leaving our teaching jobs and traveling around the country to teach people about running while documenting the journey. Viola! Vagabond runner hippies! I identified what I love then went after it. The result- a ton of really great work.
Challenge #3: Make a list of three things you love to do. Once you make the list, come up with a creative way to tie all three together into one activity. Now go out and do this activity.
“If today were the last day of my life, would I do what I’m about to do today?”
Okay, this one is tough. There are days when I look in the mirror and cannot honestly say I would do what I have to do if it were the last day of my life. The process of paying off our debt has been difficult because it forced us to continue doing something we did not necessarily enjoy. The payoff, however, has been worth it. My goal has been to reduce the “bad days spent doing something I do not enjoy” as quickly as possible.
Regardless, my goal is to be able to look in the mirror each and every morning and honestly say I’m about to do exactly what I would do if this were the last day of my life. A major part of this self-assessment is actually determining what you’d do if it really was the last day of your life, which is the next challenge:
Challenge #4: You’re going to die at midnight tomorrow. From midnight tonight, map out exactly what your last day would look like. What would you do? Who would you talk to? Who would you spend time with? If your answers are honest, this exercise should be eye-opening.
“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped with dogma, which is the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out the sound of your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
You will die. I will die. Our loved ones will die. We cannot escape this inevitability. We are reminded of this fact often, yet we rarely take it to heart. About the only time we really listen is when someone close to us dies. I did this when my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The ensuing terror of my own mortality led to a manic period of my life that led to my first ultramarathon.
Eventually the terror subsided and was replaced by the complacency of going through the motions of life. Since my father died, other people I know have died. Each time, I’d get a slight hint of that terror I felt before, but not enough to jolt me to action. I continued to lead my boring, unfulfilling life.
Then something happened. I read Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week. Ferriss only vaguely talks about this idea, but he does talk about the concept of retirement. We spend our most physically-able years of our lives working to prepare for a time when we eventually have the freedom to do what we really want. Why not set your life up in a way where you can do what you want now while you still have your health?
My father’s death probably played a role in the impact of this idea. He was a few months from retiring when he died.
Ferriss also talked about the idea of happiness. He made a convincing argument that the opposite of happiness isn’t sadness but boredom. Boredom brings unhappiness. The solution- do what excites you. Internalizing this idea has led me down the path I am on today. I identified what excites me by following my heart and intuition. Once I figured that out it was just a matter of execution.
We’re not always very good at listening to our own inner voice. All too often, self-doubt sets in and we defer to the thoughts and opinions of others. Interestingly, most of the times we DO listen to our own inner voice results in resounding successes. Why? We know ourselves a million times better than anyone else knows us. For whatever reason, we usually do not remember this.
Challenge #5: Find a quiet spot where you will not be interrupted for about an hour. Spend this time reflecting on your past. Make a list of the times you listened to your own inner voice versus someone else. You’ll be surprised- we almost always choose the right path if we trust our own heart and intuition. Start doing this more often.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
If you follow Steve’s advice, this one takes care of itself.
Hopefully all of my readers will take at least some of Jobs’ advice to heart. The five challenges from above are things I have done over the last few months to help clarify my own thoughts and feelings about my life based on these principles. I found each one to be incredibly helpful, even if they caused considerable cognitive dissonance. Some of them forced me to confront unresolved issues inside me. Others forced me to confront issues with my professional and personal life. All forced me to honestly evaluate where I was and where I wanted to be. My life has taken a dramatic turn over the last few months, and this would not have bee possible had I not taken this journey of self-reflection.
Over the next few days and weeks, take these five challenges. Be honest with yourself. You’ll find it to be an eye-opening experience. After doing the exercises, watch the Jobs speech again. I guarantee you’ll make the changes necessary to begin leading a fucking awesome life.
I know some of my readers already follow this advice and are leading fucking awesome lives. As a testimonial to the rest of us, post your story as a comment.