We live in a time when our language contracts many objects and practices into one word— we Google, Email, Text, Attach, Gift, and—Stressed from all that qwikspeak, zip out of town for a Staycation at a huge country hotel with many buildings and cottages that we call a Spa. So much for objects and actions. The language has always been shortcutting itself—just one of its interesting habits; in 1600, Will Shakespeare scandalized Englishmen by adding –ize to adjectives to make quick, new verbs: but soon they realized what a nice neologism it was. And took it up, too.
But not one human being can be described or characterized in just one word. That is why comprehensive biographies are not a sentence or two, even one or two pages–a précis of sorts. Nope, it takes the heft of a book for one to come to understand the complexity of most any other individual, some famous in their lifetimes, others who have the Klieg lights of notoriety or celebrity shine upon every detail of their existence long after they die. Until this week I knew little about Steve Jobs that was not focused on his leadership of Apple.
However, I learned a great deal more after reading his now-famous Stanford Commencement Speech. Given in 2005, it contains many teachings and is well worth reading. Jobs is among the more famous college dropouts, and in this speech he
tells the story of leaving school to take courses he found more to his interest. One class was calligraphy. From that seemingly whimsical decision, he tells all the things he learned that late accounted for the elegance of the type and other features of Apple products.
If you think about it, each and every one of us is born with gifts that rival those of a Madame Curie, Booker T. Washington, Thomas A. Edison, or a Steve Jobs. We may lack
the singular intelligence of some influential men and woman or others’ high, productive creativity. It doesn’t really matter, as the list of fascinating, even surprising attributes embedded in any one of us is no doubt close to endless.
So why are biographers drawn to some and not to others? Returning to the Stanford speech, Jobs passes on this answer: “[T]he only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” The ones biographers are
drawn to, then, don’t settle for doing just anything—just finishing college, for example, and majoring in any old field; just working at any job—the subjects of future biographies adapt and adapt, scoot down numerous rabbit holes the rabbit has abandoned, until they come upon an object or practice, some action that to them allows them to best employ their intelligence and creativity in some action they love.
I believe the primary distinguisher between a Steve Jobs and most of the remainder of mankind is that Steve and his ilk come to a lucid recognition of where their talents lie and then they bring all their will and determination to bear upon succeeding at whatever calling meshes with those gifts. With calligraphy, say, instead of with accounting or calculus. For some, coming to that recognition is the work of a lifetime. Their consciousness is informed in gradual measures, but the speed matters not. The point is to continue the self-inquiry. Ask “What do I just love to do?” Until one day you come to do what you love.