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Not quite Saint Steve



Steve Jobs was wearing jeans and bare feet when, in 1985, he announced to colleagues that he had been sacked from his own company because he 'did not wear the right pants'. He did not choose to be sacked, but he said in his 2005 Stanford Commencement address that it was the best thing that could have happened to him because it led to one of the most creative periods of his life.

Leaving the 'heaviness' of the pressure to be successful in a large corporation gave Jobs the freedom to rediscover and pursue the work he loved. 'You've got to find what you love,' he told the Stanford students. 'The only way to do great work is to love what you do.'

Perhaps wearing jeans in a corporate environment reflects a corporate death wish. But it was not exactly that. Put simply, he was not afraid of death. At the age of 17, he was struck by a popular quotation that inspired him to 'live each day as if it was [his] last'. That gave him what it took to follow his heart for the rest of his life.

'All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.'

These words suggest Jobs possessed an inner freedom characteristic of mystics and saints, such as Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. There are also echoes of Ignatius' Discernment of Spirits in Jobs' advice to clear away the clutter of expectations on the surface before making an important decision:

'Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.'

But it is important not to canonise Jobs just because he is one with the saints in his internal disposition. Ultimately he needs to be judged by his actions. To this end, stage performer and activist Mike Daisey admirably plays the role of devil's advocate.

Daisey, who was in Australia last week, has documented the sub-standard conditions of workers manufacturing Apple products in China. The ABC's Tony Jones asked Daisey on Lateline last Thursday whether Jobs had been so focused on his devices that he was blind to the workers' conditions. 'He was far too smart,' Daisey suggested. 'He made calculated decisions along the way.'

For good reason, Steve Jobs is already one of the most popular role models for business and creative people. Like all role models, he is imperfect. We can only hope that those who seek to imitate him truly adopt his spirit of inner freedom and choose to follow his passion but not his ruthlessness.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Steve Jobs, Apple, Stanford, Ignatius of Loyola, Discernment of Spirits, Mike Daisey



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Existing comments

Steve Jobs was no role model with his pithy statments on life and death. Jesus Christ is the role model for all.

Trent | 10 October 2011  

Quoting Michael Mullins editorial -'Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.'

But is that not the very opposit of the teaching in ALL Religions?

Josh | 10 October 2011  

While Steve found the freedom to unleash his creative energies, fuel his dreams, find the inner calm and self possession of the mystics, I wonder if at the end of it all he ever got to the point of asking some of the most fundamental questions of all: has his genius led to a greater human wisdom and has his personal freedom led to a more generous liberation of human beings? Yes and no probably. History will tell and its cycle is down to about ten years now!
It is reported that under Jobs, Apple was/is not a great philanthropic organisation. Maybe Jobs was more concerned with allowing Apple to amplify itself as a corporation at the expense of those who made it so wealthy - its workers and its customers.

Did Jobs ever monitor the growing incidents of silicosis and related health issues in Apple's Chinese work force, a problem so serious now that the company is on the nose there and will shift to Brazil where they will be able to produce their shiny new wares even more cheaply and health issues more understandably tolerated?

Did Steve really understand that his devices of mass communication would in fact contribute to a form of global technology induced autism?

David Timbs | 10 October 2011  

Two comments only. Firstly to Trent, I've followed all your posts with interest. If Jesus Christ is the role model for all, what do you think he would be saying about our treatment of asylum-seekers? Secondly, to Michael, and more on topic. It's all very well to be critical of Jobs for being 'blind to the workers' conditions' but couldn't the same thing be said for every retailer in this country who imports and sells clothing, footwear, foodstuffs, appliances or whatever that is produced in places like China without regard for the conditions of the workers who produce them? Jobs is not the problem, at worst a symptom. The exploitation of the poor, both here and overseas, has been at the heart of capitalism from its inception.

Ginger meggs | 10 October 2011  

Steve Jobs was a great man who changed the way we all are living today. We are all living in a glass house with a very low ceiling in case we want to start tossing stones at Steve Jobs. Much of our way of life is the results of somebody else or somebody before us doing something which would have excluded them from achieving sainthood. I am sure that Captain Cook did not pay much if anything for the purchase of Australia. I am sure that the British Empire like other empires were not benevolent societies created for the good of mankind. If anybody really thinks that a CEO of any company is really worthy to earn over 1 Million Dollars a year? Does anybody think that these massive salaries are justified or would it be fairer that workers, shareholders or suppliers get a little bit more?

Beat Odermatt | 14 October 2011  

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