“I wanted my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”
This is how Steve Jobs answered his biographer when asked why he agreed to cooperate in the writing of his biography.
Jobs’ statement was a kick in the gut when I first read it, and still elicits a gnawing pain in me. It drove home the point that we all make conscious or subconscious decisions regarding how we spend our most precious finite resource: Time.
I have never heard a husband or wife, son or daughter, mother or father say, “I wish he accomplished more before he died. He spent too much quality time with us and cared too much for other people.”
Jobs’ statement is an admission that all that remains of us are the memories of us shared by others, created by our actions and the intensity of our attention during the time we spent with them. The works that we leave behind on this planet will eventually be forgotten. And to those we leave behind, a chronicle of our activities and reasons why we chose not to be there for them are cold solace.
As human beings, we are endowed with a sense of our own mortality and can chose actions that make our lives and the lives of others better. As Steve Jobs expressed and demonstrated, coming closer to death inspires us to spend more quality time with friends and loved ones, while we simultaneously justify our past decisions. Wouldn’t life be better if we all chose to invest in our friendships and relationships now, rather than waiting until we approach death’s door?
The lesson Steve Jobs is teaching us is as old as humanity itself. I think Percy Bysshe Shelley captured parts of this sentiment best in his poem, “Ozymandias.” In fact, after the death of a friend when I was a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I had the text, “I am Ozymandias” inscribed in my class ring, in the hope that I would make the right choices regarding how I spend the unknown amount of time remaining in my life.
I wish you all the best in making your choices.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear –
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- Steve Jobs quote: Walter Isaacson, Time Magazine, “American Icon,” Oct. 17, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2096327,00.html
- Photo of ‘Younger Memnon’ statue of Ramesses II in the British Museum, though to have inspired the poem Ozymandias: Wikipedia.
- Ozymandias poem: Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1826). Miscellaneous and posthumous poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: W. Benbow.