Steve Jobs was more interested in Buddhism than he was Stoicism. He may not have been, at least according to biographies, a particularly good person. But he was still a person, one whose perspective on life was shaped in interesting ways and utterly changed after his first brush with cancer in 2003.
In his famous graduation speech to Stanford University, Jobs reflected on the lessons he had learned glimpsing into the abyss of mortality and how it shaped how he tried to live those last years of his life. As he said:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — 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…
…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 some day not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.
Marcus Aurelius summed up life along similar lines: “Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.” Nothing is permanent. Not failure. Not pain. Not fame. Not fortune. Not you. Not anyone.
If you can take a minute to stop and think about this, it will help you lead a better life. It will help you be a better person. What might Steve Job’s relationship with his daughter have been had he realized it earlier? Might Marcus Aurelius have been a better or more attentive father himself had he taken the advice to heart sooner?
We are all naked. We are all small. When we accept this, so much pretense, so much agitation falls away. It allows us to simply be. To be here. To be happy. To be good. There is no reason not to follow your heart, not to do what you know is right and what you know you can do.
Can you see that?