only what is truly important

Stanford University Quad Sky

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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.”—Steve Jobs – Stanford University Commencement Address, 2005

Jobs gave what is arguably one of the best launch speeches ever in his 2005 commencement address to Stanford University students. Filtered through his own intimate acquaintance with mortality, he boiled it down and handed it on a platter to kids who’d only ever received anything sans much struggle anyway, so it’s doubtful – given their age and relative privilege compared to most – that any of the young adults in attendance that day took Jobs’ words and ran with them. 2005 was still “booming times” with “limitless growth potential”.

And I would guess that anyone who did give his words more than a cursory second thought misapplied the advice in a material Jeffersonian “pursuit of happiness” way that is typical of Americans and those who follow the model. Following one’s heart is not about “happiness”. There are more important things that simply being “happy”.

Happy, like sad, or satiated or angry or blah or anything that a person can feel is transient. It’s like weather. Wait long enough and it will change – for better or worse.

What is truly important boils down to surprisingly little when one is willing to measure it against the finite amount of time we are alloted. Love, giving more than receiving but also not giving just to receive. Knowing our true self well enough to realize that it is the only true north compass we have. Realizing that we are ultimately more than the shells we inhabit and the stuff that supports our shells. Being thankful for everything because the universe didn’t owe us any of our experiences but gave us the opportunities anyway – to learn from or not as we chose.

Mostly though what is important is the fact that we are the authors of our lives. Dramas, romantic comedies, tragedies. We dwell in the narratives we’ve written for ourselves.

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