In his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs said: “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… Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
This speech defined the way Steve Jobs lived his life and will always be remembered by.
That famous speech known globally as ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ has been quoted and referenced countless times around the world as one of the most defining, inspiring and reawakening speeches of all time.
Live for tomorrow, today
It is a speech from which I have quoted many, many times and in this column today as we come to the end of another year, I would like to paraphrase a key message from Jobs: The only way to live life well is to embrace death.
One cannot dwell on the past nor be distracted by the challenges of the present; but stay focused on a future that you live for and are willing ultimately to die for. The irony here is that Steve is asking us to live for tomorrow, today. Yet, in juxtaposition, he is also saying that today may be your last. Thus, it is finding that middle ground between these two positions that defines the essence of the phrase ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’.
Taking inspiration from this, I say to others in a more simplistic sense: Never look back. One lives only by looking forward. One dares today by caring about tomorrow. What is the benefit of focusing on the past?
Learning from one’s mistakes
By no means is this the same as learning from one’s mistakes. Not looking back and learning from past mistakes are two separate things. Learning from a mistake is a completely current position. It is like using a page from the textbook of your life; a past experience, a defeat, a loss or a failure and drawing upon it, analysing it, dissecting it, and above all deriving the formula for what one should not do.
Analysing the mistake can only show you what you have done wrong and teach you not to repeat it. Therein ends the learning. But what many people do is get caught up in the results of that mistake and slowly get sucked into a quicksand of despair, disappointment and depression over the mistakes and their repercussions.
In the words of American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
To be embroiled in the past has no future.
Moving forward is the only way to go, is the only way to change and ultimately the only way to live. Moving forward with a sense of urgency is what Jobs implied in his speech, for there can be no greater sense of urgency than acknowledging that one lives at death’s doorstep constantly.
One cannot be paralysed by the past, or by the fear of the future. The sword of Damocles interminably hangs over each and every one of us, and is a reminder of the reality of life itself. It leaves us living on the edge. There can be no other place to live. Every other creature on this planet lives exactly in that same space.
There is an old African saying – “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle…when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
An illusory world
We, however, of all God’s creatures, live in an illusory world of our own making, bolstered and buffered by the flimsy environment of our social and cultural veneer. Life for us is unfortunately very much an illusion; for reality is that we are always a hair’s breadth away from death.
Thus, the point of not looking back is the fundamental basis of true success. One cannot plan or project the future based on the past because therein lies the continuous predilection for repeating our mistakes.
In order to plan ahead with innovation and inspiration one has to be totally free from the past. One has to be living on the edge and revelling in it. One has to recognise that sometimes not taking a risk can be the most dangerous risk of all.
By not changing, by not reinventing ourselves, by not renewing our compact with a destination in the future, by not challenging who we are, by not restructuring who we can be, we are dying. In the simplest terms, this means change or die.
It means gaze forward, spread your wings and reach out to the splendour of an unknown universe. The Lord gave us imagination not for it to be curtailed, but for it to be set free. The fact is, we either are the drivers of our own lives or we are being driven by another – the ultimate difference being one of control and independence.
Every prominent leader of note is always described as ‘being driven’. This is critically important because one has to recognise that this is a reference to his/her being driven by their vision. And that makes them a force that drives the entire group, corporation, community or country that they lead.
There is no one of any note that I know that has gained fame or fortune by looking back. In order to live life without fear or favour, one has to dare to dream.
It is in essence, the only formula for success of any kind. To add my own twist to the words of Steve Jobs: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, Never Look Back.
(The writer is a leading Asian businessman, bestselling author and speaker. He is also a major investor in the Colombo Stock Exchange.)
News Source : Never Look Back, Guest Column by Vijay Eswaran, Daily FT