Look, Steve got a lot right in his life, that's for sure. But there is one big thing that he was totally wrong about, basically confusing a whole generation.
As a father of 3 teenage boys, that's a big deal to me and I just have to get this off my chest.
What am I on about?
Let me explain…
Read any self-help book, listen to any motivational guru, and there’s a common theme these days:
Passion is the key to success and happiness.
You’ve got to “follow your passion”. If you’re not jumping out of bed every morning ready to ninja-kick a hole in the day, you’re in the wrong vocation.
The key to success is to find what you love, and find a way to do that for a living.
It sounds about right. It certainly feels nice. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s a load of crap. And if you follow this particular advice, you’re probably going to end up broke and unhappy, with some sort of mild infectious disease.
Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But I think this is one of those seductive new-agey things that plays straight to our need to be a special princess.
And it’s not just guru-wannabe’s and tarot readers. Has anyone else seen the video of Steve Jobs talking to a graduating class at Stanford University back in 2005?
Look, a lot of it is pretty good. But about a third of the way through he delivers this little gem:
You've got to find what you love…. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle.
Naaww. What a nice guy. He wants me to be happy. I’m going to write him a letter and see if he’ll buy me a pony.
But don’t listen to him. He’s lying.
Steve Jobs is one of the most iconic figures of the century so far. A great leader by any measure. An incredible innovator. A phenomenal mind for business. The epitome of success.
And how did he get there? Well, if you follow the logic of his advice, he found out what his passion in life was (computers, the business of computers) and put all his energy into building a great business around his passion.
Sounds like a pretty good strategy right? That’s certainly what we assume most successful people have done.
Only this just isn’t what Steve Jobs did. Almost the opposite.
Jobs dropped out of a college degree in History, Dance and Eastern mysticism. He took a job with Atari, and spent most of his spare time at the All-One Farm – a Zen commune near San Francisco. Then he packed it in to float around India for a while.
When he came back, he helped his old friend Steve Wonzniak (who actually was a computer whiz) manage a business relationship with Call-in Computers. But in 1975, he just packed it in again, without telling anyone, to go and spend summer back at the All-One Farm. They didn’t hang on to his job for him.
This hardly sounds like someone with a passion for computers or the computer industry.
But this was only a year before he founded Apple. His passion was for Zen and meditation (or farms?). He was only interested in computers for the cash.
And it was that passion for cash that launched Apple.
Jobs initial pitch to Wozniak was to build kit computer circuits to sell for $25 a piece. It was a just a low-risk side-project to make a bit of cash. But when the local computer shop asked them for fully developed computers instead, Jobs saw an opportunity, and Apple was launched.
The rest is history.
This is not the story about a man having a dream and pursuing it against all the odds.
This is a story of a man looking to make a bit of cash to support his hippy lifestyle. But of course that doesn’t lend itself so well to sloganeering.
“Tune in, drop out, and make a bit of cash where you can, leaders of tomorrow.”
If Jobs had truly followed his passion in the new-agey sense, he would of become a meditation teacher in California. Not a captain of the electronics industry.
The key mistake we make I think is confusing “passion” for “area of interest”.
Passion is a way of being, not a topic.
I think we can definitely say that Steve Jobs was a passionate person. He lived his life with passion. But to say he had a passion for ‘electronics’ is just too simple.
Jobs probably had a passion for the challenge of Apple – of building something lasting. The competition of a cutting edge industry. The vision required to stay ahead of the technology curve.
Jobs’ passion was in the way he lived. Not where he chose (or fate chose) to apply his talents.
I think it’s useful to remember where the word passion actually comes from. It comes from the latin root for ‘pain’.
(This, btw, is why the last moments of Jesus’ life are called “The Passion of Christ”.)
So our passion is not the things that make us happy. Our passion is the things that we would endure pain and hardship for.
(Maybe this is why my wife says I’m a ‘passionate’ lover… I usually get a leg cramp.)
So while we might like sitting on tropical beaches, we can’t really say we have a ‘passion’ for it.
If you want to live your life with passion, you actually need to go towards those things that are difficult – to those things that challenge you. It’s an active thing.
And passion is where the investment of hard work and difficulty finds equal reward in inspiration and fulfilment. But the hard work comes first.
(This is why I’ll never make it as a self-help guru. All of my blogs end in telling people they need to stop being a princess and embrace hard work.)
And my advice to young grads? Be like Jobs. Don’t worry about what field you end up in. Wherever you are, always apply yourself fully to the activities that inspire you.
Apply yourself. Passion is something that you create. Not something that is given to you.
So pull your finger out, leaders of tomorrow.
Do you think that passion is all that is required to achieve financial success?
Have you been passionate in any area of you life and eventually felt unfulfilled?
Does passion and success go together?
Have I lost the plot and Steve was right… Passion is how you achieve greatness?