There are many commentators who claim that Steve Jobs suffered what they called an
“obsessive-compulsive disorder.” The problem with such labels is that they get in the way of seeing the existential struggles of people in general and, in this case, Steve Jobs in
particular. Such labelling also gets in the way of bringing to light the very important
relationship between existential struggles and the entrepreneurial mindset of Steve Jobs
One of the existential struggles of Jobs revolved around his thoughtful attunement to the
anticipation of death. At various stages in his life, he speaks about the meaning of death. In his Stanford School speech address, he speaks about the anticipation of death as one life’s ‘greatest change agents.” Towards the end of his life, in the anticipation of death, he speaks about how every material possession and status loose all meaning. As we will see, for him, the loss of an old meaning is replaced by a new sense of meaning.
These two confrontations with death can be seen as two very different ideas about what the anticipation of death meant to Steve Jobs: a trigger of change and a trigger of
meaninglessness of all earthly activities and pursuits. However, they do share a common
denominator: in both cases Jobs believes that the anticipation of death is the emotional
experience of taking a step back from the humdrum busy-ness of everyday activities.
This emotional act of stepping back allows for the possibility of reframing human existence in new ways. As he himself believed, it is the anticipation of death that allowed Jobs to take an emotional step back as the basis of his entrepreneurial mindset: “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.”
Towards the end of his life, the anticipation of death allows him to take an emotional step
back and reconsider his whole experience of what is and what is not meaningful in life. The anticipation of death put him in a thoughtful philosophical mood: “At this moment, lying on my bed and recalling my life, I realise that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in have paled and become meaningless in the face of my death.”
Through this philosophical mood, he came to rethink the meaning of life: “ Don’t educate
your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up they will know the value of things and not the price.”
The importance of Job’s attitude towards his existential struggles is that he embraced them. He speaks about his process of embracing them: 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. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. “
Developing one’s ‘inner voice, as Jobs calls it is not easy. It does involve a struggle with
uncertainty and being existentially responsible for one’s existence. As Jobs points out, there are many ways of escaping the struggle of listening for the emergence of our ‘inner voice.’ As stated in the paragraph above, the ‘noise of other opinions’ and the dogma of
conventional ways of doing things drown out the existential challenges.
Working with his existential challenges was the basis of Jobs’ into life in general but it was also crucial for developing his entrepreneurial mindset which often meant letting go of the safety of ‘comfort zones.” In a world in which a career does not follow a linear and sequential part all of us are called to work through our existential struggles to take us on our next journey. The challenge is to let go of the safety of our labels. It is not helpful to call Jobs an obsessive compulsive disorder. I bet that Jobs would respond to this by challenging those who find safety in labels to let go of their labels to find what they are capable of at work and home.