Steve Jobs was still talking about the Mac way back in 2005.
During a commencement speech at Stanford that year, the CEO and co-founder of Apple was not quite riding the wave of ubiquitous mobile devices and widespread internet access yet. He was not an uber-celebrity at the time. While the Apple iPod had been around for a few years by then, the iPhone was still two years away from making it's illustrious debut.
He obviously had fond memories of helping design and develop the Mac computer, but he was not quite the iconic figure he would become, someone who had instant name recognition once he became known more for the iPhone than the Mac.
Here's the speech he gave:
In what we all recognize as one of the most interesting commencement speeches of all time, Jobs started his speech by describing how he had dropped out of Reed College. It's an odd way to address the soon-to-be graduates in the audience, but it makes sense once he explains how he "dropped in" to the classes he liked. He explained how he took a calligraphy course that taught him about font usage, space between characters, and why design matters. That informed future Apple products.
As with any look in the rear-view mirror, Jobs expressed how taking that class made such a profound impact on his life. He talked about how you can only connect the dots when you look back. Then he made another interesting, and perhaps unheralded, statement.
"You can't connect the dots looking forward."
At first glance, this is a strange thing to say. None of us own a time machine, we're not always prescient. The future has to unfold on its own, one step (and one person) at a time. Yet, I think this is a life-changing statement for any of us.
For those working in a dead-end career, or trying to build a small company from the ground up, or for an employee at a large firm wallowing in obscurity, we tend to think that we can pull on a few strands and connect the dots as we go along. If we just get that promotion, or finish this project by a certain date, or hit that financial milestone. We're so focused on future outcomes that we forget to focus on what is facing us today.
I believe what Jobs was saying way back in 2005 had more to do with avoiding the trap of trying to control outcomes, and that (as a self-proclaimed controller himself) he was finally learning to release his grip on the outcome and trust fate instead.
"You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future," he said. "Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all of the difference."
Why do we struggle with this concept?
The answer is different for each of us, but I can say for myself that trusting that the steps I'm taking in life will lead to the best destination is one of the hardest things we can ever do. We don't know the outcome. We can try to control fate, we can try to force things into a positive direction. We can try to control other people and other things. Often, it's when we live in the present and make decisions about today that we start to release control and start to realize that we can really only dictate the present.
The future is uncertain for all of us. It certainly was for Jobs, who became ultra-famous and ultra-rich yet at that time had already revealed, from a hospital bed in 2004, that he had pancreatic cancer. He would die at the relatively young age of 56 only six years after that Stanford commencement speech, and only four years after the iPhone launched.
As a Christian, I often think about a verse in the Bible, Matthew 6:34, that says: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." I believe strongly that the decisions we make today are the only ones that should concern us, and that the outcome, as Jobs noted, is out of our hands. We only have enough mental ability, emotional strength, and physical power to determine outcomes for right now. None of us can determine the outcomes for the future.
How are you trying to control the dots? What areas can you release?
Drop me an email if you want to fess up and discuss the problem.