Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and experiences!

What can I learn from Steve Jobs?

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Last week, the world has lost a great man, who has had made a big impact in the lives of many people on this planet earth, in the way how we use technology. Yes, you are right. This man is Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc (1955 – 2011). Due to cancer, he has passed away in his California home last Wednesday, a day after the official announcement of iPhone 4S and IOS 5, as well as iCloud.

For me, I just started to use Iphone 4 few months ago. Well, I am just an ordinary someone who distantly respects him as an individual, visionary and game changer. Steve was born a regular person just like any of us, not given anything more or less in terms of his life. At the end of the day, it was the way how he led his life that made it very different from most of us else.

In this blog entry, I hereby share the following 11 reflective life lessons written by a Singaporean motivation coach, Ms Celestine Chua on the above subject title. I resonate with the contents which she has written. I start to think about how I can apply these lessons to myself. And that includes you, my blog reader as well! 🙂

1. Life is what we make it most out of it.

Here is a quick run down of Steve Jobs’ background if you are not familiar with him:

  • He was born out of wedlock, to graduate student parents who later decided to give him up for adoption.
  • He was adopted and raised in a working class family. His foster father fixed cars to earn a living.
  • His biological parents wanted a girl actually, not a boy.
  • He dropped out of college, after only 1 semester. His highest qualification was high school.
  • While he was attending Reed (his college), he would be “sleeping on the floor in friends’ rooms, returning Coke bottles for food money, and getting weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple”.
  • In 1985, he was fired very publicly, from the very company he founded (Apple), after losing a power struggle with the board of directors. (He would then later return as CEO (in 1997) after Apple bought over NeXT, the company Steve founded after leaving Apple.)
  • In 2003, he discovered he had cancerous tumor in his pancreas. He then engaged in a long battle with cancer for the next 8 years, till his demise last Wednesday.

Most people might have thought that Steve probably had a privileged life, had a silver spoon in his mouth, and had his path to success laid out before him.

No, it wasn’t.

While he was not necessarily dealt with the best cards, it didn’t matter a single bit. Rather than complain or let himself be paralyzed by the situations, Steve made the best out of what he was given –then went to create the kind of life what he wanted, eventually becoming the CEO of one of the most valued companies in the world, a billionaire many times over, and being one of the most respected people in the world today.

Thinking mode: When life gives me a curveball, what should I do with it? Am I going to (a) sit and whine about it (b) make the best out of it or (c) throw the curveball back at life and create my home run?

Most people do (a) – these people are usually the whiners. Some people do (b) – okay, these people generally do good, but that’s about it. Few people would do (c) – these are the real true winners.

Thinking mode: We always have a choice as in how we want to live our lives. I may be hearing-impaired, perhaps I should not victimize myself because no matter how bad things may seem at the current moment, I should pause and think — there are hundreds to thousands of people out there who are far worse off than me. I should count my blessings and contribute in whatever way I could.

Happiness is not just going for what I want, but it is also about enjoying what I have now and enjoy doing.

So I think…if I can rise above what I am given, that is when I will start to soar high in life.

2. Dream big – Yes, we should go dream very big dreams.

10 years ago, Before Apple’s rise, Microsoft was the undisputed giant in the world of personal computers. Before iPod, mp3 players were known only as mp3 players. Before iTunes, it seemed almost unthinkable for anyone to pay for music online, when music piracy was so rampant. Remember Kazzaa?

Before iPhone, Nokia was the long-time market leader for mobile handsets. Before iPad, there wasn’t really a need for tablet computers – PCs and laptops seemed to do the job just fine.

In each situation, no one would have ever thought things would change so dramatically today.

So each time, with exceeding results, with each product release, Steve Jobs revolutionized the industry and created a new movement – from personal computing, to mp3 players, to music distribution, to mobile phones, to tablet computers.

Thinking mode: How can these happen? They happen because Steve allowed himself the freedom to dream big – to see beyond what was in the present, think outside the box, and to go where no one had ventured before. (Singapore students, can you think creative???)

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple’s Think Different commercial.

Thinking mode: How am I going to set my goal? What is my calling in life? Am I going to base my goals on what has already been achieved out there? Or should I base them on my boldest, grandest, craziest deepest heart’s desire? Do I want to be a trailblazer , creating a movement which I can shake the world?

Maybe I should just set them and go for them. Hesitate no more, yeah?

3. All great things start from somewhere, from a humble beginning.

Steve Jobs started Apple in his parents’ garage, along with high-school buddy Steven Wozniak. Not exactly the most glam start for the world’s largest technology company today – Not that it mattered because it would never have grown if there was never a start in the first place.

I often hear people saying that they can’t do A because they need to wait for B, C and D to be in place. And that includes myself as well. :p

Thinking mode: Fair enough, but are these requirements really necessary or are they just excuses for us not to take action? If I am forever waiting for things to be perfect, when will I start taking action then?

I recently started a blog on the hearing-impaired communities. Just last week. I am slowly making baby steps to make it an informative blog to help this group of people and others in Singapore. Never mind, I just start slow and steady.

It is from the starting that you get to somewhere.

4. Paper qualifications don’t really matter actually.

“Truth be told, I never graduated from college. And this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” – Steve Jobs, during his address at Stanford Commencement 2005.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed after just 1 semester. His highest education qualification was high school level. He would become one of the many billionaire drop-outs today who would put the age old belief that certification is essential for success in life to shame.

Of course I am not saying that you should quit studying or not to have any education certification. After all, I myself is an ITE student who went on to obtain a diploma in a private school.

It seems not a wise thing if you go pursue an MBA course just for the sake of doing it. If the MBA degree does not help you at all, the initial sum of money which you have invested in the course would have been truly wasted.

For students – Are they going to drift their way through school so that they can get a piece of paper at the end of their course, as a ticket to the working world?

For those who have earned their certifications – Are they going to just hide behind them as a safety shield and using them as an excuse not to develop themselves further?

And lastly for those who don’t have certifications in whatever field they would like to pursue in – Are they going to let this be the excuse from achieving what they want to achieve or to go where they want to go?

Thinking mode: Maybe I should put it this way – whether I succeed or not in life is independent of my certifications. Afterall there are people who succeed in life and are graduates, just as there are also people who succeed and don’t have any certification at all. What is more important are my skills level, my attitude, and my aptitude.

I do have plans to study/get some form of certification in the future, enrolling in a short-term course.

We should be conscious of why we are pursuing it, and whether it meets our needs.

5. Live every day like it is our last day on earth tomorrow.

Steve Jobs was a strong proponent of living life to the fullest – every day. This was clear from many of his quotes:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was to be your last day, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you ahve something to lose.”

“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.”

Thinking mode: If we reflect it on ourselves — Am I living my life to the fullest? Or am I wasting my days away sleepwalking? If I were to die today, will I die happy or with regrets? What can I do about those regrets now, before it’s too late? What are all the things which I want to do before I die? How can I start working on them now?

6. Stop listening to whatever others say to us.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech 2005.

Steve Jobs faced his fair share of naysayers in his life time. When he was fired very publicly from Apple in 1985, he was dismissed by the industry as a “flash in the pan” – in other words, had a showy beginning, but with nothing to tell at the end. Business leaders and press saw him as a has-been.

What happened thereafter, was one of the most remarkable comebacks in business history.

After getting fired, Steve went on to create NeXT, a computer platform development company. He also purchased the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm Ltd, and later spun it off as Pixar (which was subsequently acquired by Disney in 2006).

In his Stanford Commencement Speech 2005, Steve said: “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by a lightness of being a beginner again, less sure of everything. It freed me to enter the most creative periods of  my life.”

In 1996, in an ironic twist of events, after 10 years of steady losses after firing Steve Jobs, acquired NeXT for the computer platform system which it was missing. Steve stepped in to become its interim CEO in 1997, before being appointed as official CEO in 2000. Under his visionary leadership, Apple was brought back from the brink of bankruptcy and is now the largest company in the world, in terms of revenue and profit (surpassing Microsoft this year).  Steve continued to serve as its CEO until August 2011 when he resigned due to health matters.

If Steve Jobs had listened to detractors when he was fired in the first place, he would never have achieved the success he did today. Instead, he listened to his heart and did what he felt he had to do. Being guided by that, it led him to realise his goals. Listen to our most inner most voice. Follow it. We can never go wrong with it.

Thinking mode: Whatever my dreams are, I should follow them. I should not listen to the naysayers who pour a wet blanket on me. They are people who discourage me from living the life I desired. Following their words will only make my life a shadow of theirs, not mine. Not the life I am looking for.

7. Never underestimate the impact we can have on this world as individuals. 

“I want to put a ding in the universe.” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was just 1 person, but let’s look at how he revolutionized the technology industry and impacted masses with his work. It is ok to say that iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iPad, among his other creations have positively impacted millions (if not billions) of lives around the world. This would have never happened if he didn’t pursue his dreams.

Likewise for us, there is a world out there waiting for us to create impact on it.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” — Steve Jobs’ legendary pitch to John Sculley (then PepsiCo CEO) in 1983, to get him to run Apple (Sculley later pushed Jobs out of Apple in 1985)

Thinking mode: What is the change I want to bring to this world? What do I need to do to make it happen? How can I start my revolution, with effect from today?

I think I know my answer. 🙂

8. Failure happens only when we think it is so.

Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he created. By most people’s standards, this would be the epitome of failure. Most people would give up and hide from the world, right at this point.

Not him though. As I mentioned earlier, he went on to create 2 successful companies (NeXT and Pixar), got rehired into Apple, turned it around in one of the biggest comebacks in business history, and made it the biggest technology company today. Steve never gave up and fought for what he believed in.

Many Singaporeans may ask – how about failure – what if I failed? What would I have done?

Here’s the thing about failure – The biggest lesson we should learn about failure is this: There is no failure until we consider it to be so. This means even if we lose all our money, go bankrupt, lose our housing flats, suffer some major career setback, we have not failed. It is just one of the many mid-points towards our end goals. The only point we fail is when we give up – because that’s when the story ends. Period.

That’s the reason why I decided to pursue my path of helping the hearing-impaired communities, without hesitation – because I know as long as I kept going, it is just a matter of time before I reach my goal. Anything that was going to happen before that would merely be an occurrence along the journey – nothing more, nothing less. 😀

So as long as I keep going, and have no intentions to give up on my dreams, I can never fail. It is just a matter of time before I get to where I want to be. Right?

Life is afterall a learning journey, right from Day One when I was born, isn’t it? Remember how we learnt to walk?

9. Do what we love most.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs

We only live once. We should pursue our passions. We have the rest of our life to work, so rather than do something we don’t like THEN retire and do the things we’ve been meaning to do all our life, why not pursue our passions and make that work this lifetime?

Thinking mode: Yes, maybe I may have to backtrack a bit where income is concerned, but that is just temporary. As long as I keep outdoing myself, it’s a matter of time before I achieve *both*passion and money.

Don’t make yourself work in a job you dislike, because that will be to waste your life away. We should do what we love most, because that is what life is all about – we lead a happy life doing all the things we love to do! 😉

10. Always have faith in ourselves – We must never lose hope.

“Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs, on getting fired from Apple back in 1985

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech 2005.

Even when things looked bleak, Steve always had faith that things would work out okay one day. It kept him going and allowed him to make the best out of his life.

Thinking mode: No matter what rough patch I may be going through now, I should not give up. Don’t lose hope either. As long as I keep going, I will see the light at the end of the tunnel. I should think it this way – I am born into this world not to suffer – I am here to blossom as an individual. To learn being a better person.

Everything happens for a reason somehow, and it is entirely up to us to assign that reason. 🙂

11. Outdo ourselves – Over, and over again

I am also not really an Apple fan, so I do not follow any of Apple’s news or of its product releases/updates.

However, the fact that people care about these models, discuss about them at length today and continue to buy them (over and beyond initial hype), shows that they do find value in the new models. Be it thinner, lighter, faster, longer battery life, or increased functionality, these upgrades are things which consumers today find valuable, and have their lives improved as a result.

Steve Jobs relentlessly pursued betterment, both in work and life. He was already successful in his early years, but this did not stop him from wanting to become better. Beyond settling for status quo, Steve kept pushing for innovation – each time creating one game-changing product after another. Because of that, he kept growing. So did Apple.

Thinking mode: If I look at my past 3-5 year history, have I been outdoing myself? Or have I been stagnating? What can I do to outdo myself? As the CEO of my life, what is the new trajectory of growth I want to embark for the next few years?

This is an article which I would like to use, to motivate myself whenever I am at low levels. 🙂


Author: alansoh79

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