Page last updated at 12:49 Asia/Manila, Saturday, 10 December 2011 PH
Since Steve Jobs died, there has been an avalanche of testimonials to his remarkable and well-lived life. There have also been a few uncomplimentary comments about his bad temper and callous manner of treating employees. In fact, his manifest human weaknesses, with which every one of us (not excepting the so-called "saints") is abundantly endowed, actually make his greatness stand out even more. No one is born a saint. One has to struggle throughout one's whole life to overcome human weaknesses to become a truly great man.
Much of the commentaries that have appeared in the international press have been inspired by the commencement address that Steve Jobs gave to the Stanford University Class of 2005. In that well-circulated speech, Steve recounted three personal stories and his advocacy of "following your heart and doing what you love to do." Among the three stories, the last two have received the most attention. The second had to do with the providential outcome of his being fired from the company he founded when he was 30 years old. A series of events led to his founding NeXT, his falling with love with his future wife and his establishing Pixar that created the world's first computer animated feature film, Toy Story and now the most successful animation studio in the world. The third personal story was the most written about: it foreshadowed his death. One of the most quotable phrases in that portion of his speech was "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right."
Not enough, I believe, has been written about his first personal story: he called it "connecting the dots." He recounted how the "chance" events in his early life led to very happy consequences in his later life. In his words: "Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."
He was speaking as a buddhist. Buddhism contains a great deal of truth that coincides with my own faith, Christianity. What he calls destiny, karma, I call Divine Providence. Everything that happens in the life of a human being is a result of the providence of a loving Father who can only wish the greatest good to his children. It is a Christian belief that everything that happens to each one of us is for our good, even those events and happening we call tragedies, trials and tribulations. Everything works unto good to those who love God. That is the teaching of St. Paul. Let me then reinterpret Steve's narration of his early life in the light of Divine Providence.
It was Divine Providence that made sure that he would not be aborted by his biological mother, who in his words was "a young, unwed college graduate student," and "who decided to put me up for adoption." Unwanted pregnancies need not and should not lead to abortion. Adoption is always a solution. Thanks to this providential happening, we had a genius like Steve Jobs who did much good in his relatively short life. After he was offered for adoption, it was also providential that the first ones who expressed interest in adopting him were a lawyer and his wife, presumably people of financial means. But the couple wanted a girl so Steve ended up with another couple of more modest means who were able to convince Steve's biological mother to sign the papers of adoption when they promised to send Steve to college.
When Steve reached the age of 17, he went to an expensive college. When he realized that all of the savings of his working-class parents were being spent on his college tuition, his noble heart told him it was not worth it and so he decided to drop out and "trust that it would all work out OK." That is another way of saying that he put himself in the hands of the providence of God. After dropping from college, he had to struggle to continue getting some kind of informal, non-degree education. In his own words, "I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms. I returned coke bottles for the 5 cents deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on."
The example he gave should inspire many Filipino high school graduates who are not cut out for or cannot afford a college education. He decided to audit a course at Reed College on calligraphy. There he learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, etc. Now that I am a Mac user, I can see how providential that course on calligraphy was: Mac is the first computer with beautiful typography. If Steve had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And as Steve remarked, tongue in cheek, in his Stanford commencement address, "since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them." Everything works unto good to the one who loves God. As he said, "If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do." In his commencement address, Steve was connecting the dots that only God saw when he was still in his teens.
Let me end with a very practical advice to those who are seventeen or eighteen and looking ahead to their future careers. Think of manual skills that you are attracted to: mechanics, carpentry, sculpting, calligraphy, photography, cooking, gardening, whatever. If you don't want to go to college, follow your heart, not your parents who are usually biased against manual work and think that a college diploma is the end all and be all of professional success. The industrialization and agricultural development of the Philippines in the next twenty years will need numerous workers with technical skills that are better developed in vocational or technical schools rather than the universities. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.