walter isaacson

Success = "to make a dent in the universe"?

I recently finished reading "Steve Jobs - by Walter Isaacson". Have a confession to make now: Never have I been so obsessed with any protagonist in all the reading I have done my whole life! And I do read quite a bit, pretty much anything under the sun.

And the interesting thing is, I have no idea if I like him or detest him at the end of the book. I am sure some factors like, living so close to where he lived (Palo Alto/Woodside) or driving by his beloved Apple (Cupertino) everyday has a lot to do with the obsession. Being able to relate to all the places where he's "walked" in the bay area (which from this book I learned he used to do A LOT, by the way) or the restaurants he dined in San Francisco, Cupertino etc. (in most of which I have dined as well :)) made me feel so close to him and his life.

Since clearly, this book has been one of the most influential reads in my life so far, I thought it would be a good idea to post as my last blog this year, my version of his biography's "book review", and also my two cents on what I got from Steve Jobs' life and legacy.

My first impressions of the book based on the initial chapters were, awe and sheer wonder for Jobs' relentless passion and unnerving zeal for what HE believed in. To describe my awe/obsession at best, I have to admit that I was constantly thinking of Jobs and what would happen next in the book every single waking hour, those few days. I mean, I would wait with baited breath all day to get my hands on the book (No, I am not exaggerating).

Personally, I am very dreamy when it comes to passion, life's purpose, legacy etc. By dreamy I mean, I am completely in agreement with Jobs' philosophy that it is THE most important thing to find out: "What is it that can motivate us to get up every day (or at least most days) with a sense of passion and purpose to go about with our lives?". My "realist" mind does peep in once in a while with warning bells to caution me on how hard it is to find that ONE thing and to be smart about choices made on this pursuit. One of Jobs' popular confession, which is so annoyingly true: "I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life". Many of us aren't that lucky, but while reading the book I wanted to (and still do) believe so much on how important it is to find it - "your calling", whether young or not.

That said, a few chapters later I was feeling very conflicted. Most notably, his "reality distortion theories" (to the point of denying the reality of cancer and its aftermath), his almost unapologetic attitude towards life (even when he knew his stand was completely flawed), his brashness to even the people he loved and who cared for him the most, his callousness to moral and ethical values, his blatant stealing of other people's ideas and calling it his own (many close to him vouch for this in the book), his outright eccentric food habits (bordered on being bulimic)... made me very empathetic and feel a lot of adulation for his wife Laurene Powell Jobs' patience, maturity and love during many grueling times in their lives. In fact, even his kids (especially the daughters: Lisa & Erin) turned out to be so mature and forgiving of his fallacies only because he claimed to, and DID "make a dent in the universe". (His famous quote on multiple occasions to Woz, John Sculley and many others was that he wanted to do something that would "make a dent in the universe").

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way undermining his legacy, grit, passion, drive and unending search for perfectionism till his last breath. I even admit to being misty eyed and sometimes crying too at so many points while reading this book. That's how contagious and impactful his vision was. But I have been thinking real hard about him and his life (now that I have a HUGE repository of knowledge about this legend) while, and even days after finishing his biography. I was mostly thinking on the lines of... "Who was Steve Jobs outside of his work?". Yes, he was the single most captivating magician/show-man/innovator of our time, but what was it like to be his wife, children, parent or friend? Did he give all that he gave to the world, also to people who were near and dear to him and does it matter?

These questions led to one of the single most important concepts that I could not wrap my thoughts around: What constitues as success?

I could think of a list of things:

1) Having a roaring, successful career (to the point where you "make a dent in the universe"), like Steve did.

2) Having a long-lasting, peaceful, blissful personal life (here I am implying a wonderful marriage with great compatibility).

3) To be the "best" parent in the world (In yours, the child's and the society's eyes)

4) To earn (and save) enough to enjoy all the materialistic pleasures in the world.

5) To not be materialistic, but lead a normal, contented life and, go to bed in peace and harmony every single day.

6) Give back to the society in the form of philanthrophy, knowledge, charity etc. (Like the other computer legend of our time, Mr. Bill Gates is doing - something Steve berated constantly about).

And the list can get a lot longer than this...

So what is success? Is it having all of the above?

Honestly, I do not know. I don't have the wisdom or experience to say if we could have it all, and if that's what success is all about. However, what I can do is, draw a parallel here based on MY life's experience.

And for that, I need to go back about a few decades in time to the life of a middle class man in India (Chennai to be accurate). He had a modest career, decent marriage and two kids. He was not starry-eyed or pursuing "his calling". What he tried to do was to get a better life than his father, and to give a life to his kids that was better than the one he could make for himself. For those who cannot connect the dots, I am describing my Father's life here. I can more that guarantee that, it was a great struggle for a middle class man in India to strive above and beyond his capabilities to be an honest individual, wake up to work hard every single day amidst all the possible obstacles AND fulfil his dream for his children. Yes, he may not have millions in shares and stocks, may not drive the most expensive car, may not travel the world.... But was he successful?

Before answering that question, I am going to share my "a-ha" moment here: I know initially in this blog, I mentioned it was key to "find your calling" (which can be anything from starting your own business, pursuing another degree, or even finding the cure to cancer). Instead, after all my thinking and reading about Steve Jobs... I am going to modify my statement to say: It is a more productive, noble and fulfilling pursuit to define what success means to you?

To my father, if success was creating the most innovative computer of our times, or the most eye-appealing gadgets (not one, not two but THREE of them) in this century, then he has failed miserably.

But instead if it meant leading an honest, content, hard working life, by not hurting his loved ones and being the best father that he could possibly be, then I think he was definitely successful.

Did he "make a dent in THE universe"? May be not... but he surely dented mine! ;)

On that note, I am thankful for all the great things that happened in 2011 and look forward to a very interesting and intriguing 2012 :).

Happy holidays to all. See you next year!