This week brought the big news of Steve Jobs’ retirement as Apple CEO. Beyond being a brilliant technologist, businessman, or curator of painfully beautiful consumer products he’s a cultural icon. As I saw the profound impact his announcement had on many people I know, I tried to put my thumb on why. In the end, I’ve concluded that it’s because we know how hard it is to define genius. Like obscenity, most of us just know it when we see it. We see it in Steve Jobs.

The WSJ gathered the greatest hits of his quotes. They strike me with that powerful feeling of something articulated that you know to be true, that you feel, that you have been groping around to express, but could never find the right words. I’ll do another post about various Jobs’ quotes and what they mean to me, but for now I want to talk about this gem from his magnificent ’05 stanford commencement speech:

“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.

I still remember the goosebumps this speech caused me 6 years ago. That first day, I watched/read it at least a dozen times because it spoke to so much to where I was in life. When I re-read it this week, it synced with another piece of writing that I recently read from a Paul Bucheit blog post called “I am nothing.” Here’s my favorite part:

Until we let go of our mental images of who we are or who we should be, our vision remains clouded by expectation. But when we let go of everything, open ourselves to any truth, and see the world without fear or judgement, then we are finally able to begin the process of peeling off the shell of false identity that prevents our true self from growing and shining in to the world. And it starts with nothing.

Bucheit echoes Jobs here.

We’re all, ultimately, naked and nothing. We turn our baggage into armor and it prevents us from living the life that we are meant to. It prevents us from experiencing the amazing promise we each came into the world with.

This week was great to remind me that I am naked. It’s a choice to wear that baggage — dogma, judgment, fear, failure, comparisons, etc. I am naked. I am nothing. And now that I’ve reminded myself of this, what should I do? Where should I go? How should I act? What should I pour myself into? These are the thoughts on my mind. Though my answers change depending on when I do the asking, I’m better for having the right foundation.

Anyway. Thanks, Steve Jobs. Not just for my laptop, phone, and tablet. But for serving as an inspiration. For showing us what it can be like when we live up to our promise in an area of our life. For reminding us to remember that we are naked and nothing, and that being so allows us to be everything we ever hoped to be.

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