Shortly after his death in 2011, I picked up the Steve Jobs biography (written by Walter Isaacson) and, like most people, I was inspired by his story

I raved about the book to all my friends and family, and recommended it to as many people as I could whenever I had the chance. 

Although Jobs wasn't known for being the nicest person, I was enamored with his character and his conviction: to do things his own way; to move so vigorously against the grain and feel so certain about it. 

But I had a little secret that, up until now, I never had the courage to admit: I didn't actually finish reading it. 

I found that the more his terminal illness consumed his life, the less the theme of his ruthless confidence persisted. I was drawn to his audacity, which faded into reflection and introspection in the latter stages of his life. With about 50 pages remaining, I set down the book for good. 

I just lost interest at that point. Maybe it became difficult to relate to. I don't know. 

But something happened not too long ago that sparked my curiosity in the book again. More on that later, but first I should give you a little context. 

Seeking Insight

I had encountered some serious turbulence in my own company (an experience design firm) and was seeking something, some kind of insight, to help me figure out how to get over the hump. 

Now, when it comes to personal growth, I have always been a proponent a naivety. I've even written on the topic before

There's a Confucius saying that I think nails it on the head: "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones." And it's much easier to get started with small stones when don't realize how big the mountain really is. 

But after years of poor business decisions, I'd learned enough for my own naivety to wear off, and the size of the mountain--now in seemingly clear view--seemed immensely daunting. It was paralyzing. 

I clung tightly to an Anthony Bourdain quote, "Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom...is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go." His words helped me embrace the situation, but they didn't necessarily give me the courage to move forward.

Feeling overwhelmed, I laid wide awake in bed for countless evenings, staring at the ceiling struggling to fall asleep. But one night, I was suddenly overcome with a thought, struck by a question as if it were a bolt of lightening: 

How did Jobs' story end?

The Final Chapter

Here was a man who endured every possible challenge faced by an entrepreneur; a man who overcame any thinkable obstacle to not only build a lasting company, but basically single-handedly move the needle on the evolution of our society.

Granted, the challenges I faced were in absolutely no way comparable to Jobs' over the course of his lifetime. In fact, my own challenges paled in comparison to 99% of entrepreneurs today. But yet, still, there was something to be learned:

Did he think it was worth it?

If he had the choice, would he have done it all over again?

What would he have done differently?

I shot out of bed and ravaged my bookshelf in search of the Jobs biography. I found it at the very bottom, stacked under a handful of books I'd also never read. Ironically, it looked pretty worn for a book that I hadn't finished. It was missing the book cover. The plain, white hardcover was sprinkled with specs of coffee stains. 

It took me the rest of the evening and into the early hours of the morning to finish the final 50 pages. In the final chapter, Isaacson (the author) summarized Jobs' character and accomplishments. The book then concluded with a long quote from Jobs on his legacy and his views and beliefs about God.

I fell asleep that evening feeling a strong sense of disappointment. I remember thinking that I didn't find what I was looking for.

"What drove me..."

But as the weeks went on, there was one particular excerpt that became more interesting to me. 

"What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that's been done by others before us. I didn't invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes." Jobs said.

"Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and add something to the flow. It's about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how--because we cannot write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow."

What drove me? I kept coming back to that. 

Over time, I slowly realized the profoundness of what he was trying to say. It was a clear depiction of his existential view on business and in life--the way he assigned meaning in his work. And more importantly, the connection of his work to the people that came before him and for the people that will carry his contributions after. 

And in light of this insight, I can't help but wonder that maybe Bourdain had it wrong. Perhaps wisdom isn't in realizing how small I am, but how big we are together, as a species. And perhaps meaning is derived from making a contribution to it--any kind, and in any way.

Evolutionary psychologists--such as Larry Arnhart and Jonathan Haidt--do well in reminding us that we're social animals who find much of our meaning in being parts of wholes greater than ourselves. 

And frankly, I can't think of any better way to connect to the continuum of life than through building a business--identifying a way to improve the nuances of everyday life and executing.

It's worth whatever struggles come along with that. And more importantly, when put into perspective, it really makes even the most substantial challenges seem like small stones once again.

And that perspective has reinvigorated me; it has motivated me to continue trying to build something lasting. And hopefully it does the same for you, too.

Published on: Sep 18, 2018