With the passing of Steve Jobs, I’ve read many lovely newspaper editorials, blog posts, and reviews that pay tribute to his remarkable life that transfigured our lives. Reading all of these, I must admit that although I was familiar with Steve Jobs and his Apple Empire (of which, I am a somewhat new, but contented subject), I didn’t know much about the man himself. Since his death, a YouTube video of his 2005 commencement address at Standford has become a common link in my little niche of the Internet and social media circle.
One of the points in his address resonated deeply with me:
“Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them 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–because 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 the difference.”
So true. There are literally a million opportunities (dots) to do something with your life that you feel worthwhile and satisfying. The problem is, you can only see so many of those dots in front of you at one time. Sometimes, we use the paths others have traveled to figure out how we should connect our own dots and to give of us a glimpse of what’s ahead. This makes sense. One of my main motivations to go on those fairly well-travelled dots of college and grad school was to make more opportunities appear in front of me like I had seen those experiences do for others. However, if you are too rigid in following someone else’s path, you miss dots that specifically exist for you and your unique set of skills and interests, and you may be disregarding what gives you the most satisfaction and happiness. If I had followed others’ paths too rigidly instead of listening to what I wanted, I wouldn’t have done Teach for America and I wouldn’t be in Mongolia now. My experience in TFA, though incredibly demanding, was invaluable, has informed my current career decision for the better, and likely will my next. It also showed me that a non-linear path in my career was totally possible and satisfying, despite warnings from well-meaning others. I don’t yet know how my non-traditional postdoc will turn out. I admit, I constantly worry about my ability to make it a success. But I do know I’m having a once-in-a-lifetime experience with my husband and satisfied that I’m navigating my career onto a course that I find worthwhile and rewarding. I’m also realizing the very metrics upon which I judge my success are changing in ways I couldn’t have anticipated prior to this experience.
I think sometimes we follow the rigid path set by others out of fear of what will happen if we don’t and lack of confidence that a) it is okay to venture out on our own (typically because of what we think others expect – parents, family, culture) and b) we have what it takes to pull it off. But the thing is, you’re way more likely to succeed at something your passion is in than not something it is not. As Steve Jobs says later in that same commencement speech:
“You’ve got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don’t settle.”
(Thumbnail image credit: altered image from here)