Sorry to be so dramatic

Ten years ago next month. Also, 7 other things.

Next week marks 10 years since the death of Steve Jobs. A lot of people will probably write a lot of things about his legacy. Heck, I probably will.

But first, I’d like to look backward for a moment—to two moments, actually:

  • August 2011, when Jobs stepped down for good as CEO of Apple (just two months before his death), and

  • May 2005, when he gave the commencement speech at Stanford University.

First, August 2011. Many companies fall into chaos during times of transition. Apple did not. A big part of why, I think, is that Jobs had put himself (and Apple) in a position where he could write 17 short words in his resignation memo:

"I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple."

Things often look inevitable in retrospect, but having stable leadership for a full decade and a company that's worth over 7.5 times more than it was in 2011 was not the most likely outcome when Jobs had to step down for health reasons.

I think that the reason Jobs put a premium on succession becomes clear when you look back at what he chose to tell the graduates at Stanford in 2005.

Truly, his Stanford speech is one of the greatest of all time. At the least, it’s one of the best graduation speeches that happened recently enough that the whole thing is accessible on YouTube.

The part that really endures here is the five minutes or so Jobs spent discussing his experience of having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told that he would very likely die soon.

A day later, after a biopsy, he got good news: his cancer was a very rare type that could be treated with surgery. However, he said that day he spent thinking that he had only a few months left to live was invaluable.

Here’s what he told the graduates about the experience:

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades.

Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept: No one wants to die.

Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.

It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.

Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Of course, looking back now, it’s bittersweet. No matter what you think of Jobs, it’s poignant to watch a man muse eloquently about escaping death, knowing something he doesn’t—that six years later, he’d be gone.

And that a full decade after that, you’re still here to comment on what happened afterward.

Anyway, I don’t mean to single Jobs out beyond his due.

He was a brilliant leader. He could be a total jerk. But at the same time, I’m writing this on a MacBook Air, with a MacBook Pro nearby, and one of my projects today is to finish backing up all the photos from my old, banged-up iPhone X so I can go pick up my new iPhone 13 tomorrow.

Maybe it’s a good idea to have a near-death experience every 10 years or so, if only just to be reminded of the fact that you’re still here—but that none of us will be forever. (Sorry to be so dramatic.)

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7 other things


Thanks for reading, as always. Photo credit: Pixabay. I touched on a bit of this on Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.