The End of an Era: RIP Steve Jobs

I was late to recognize the significance of Steve Jobs’ genius. I first heard of him in 1999. I was in high school, writing a paper on Bill Gates. My teacher suggested that I compare Gates to his Apple counterpart, Steve Jobs. I had never heard of Jobs before, but I did some research and incorporated him into the paper.

Later in 2007 — after I’d finished high school, college, and had bounced around between careers — I came across Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. It was the text of a speech he’d given two years earlier, which would consequently change my life.

Jobs has died, and I needed to write something about it. You see, in his speech, he spoke about death:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, 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 every morning 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.

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.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

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 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.

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 others’ 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’s speech awakened something in me that can’t be put back to sleep. I often say that he “woke up the human inside of me.” Reading his speech inspired me to leave my job, move halfway across the country to meet the woman I love, and follow my passion of writing.

I laugh thinking about the time I wrote Steve Jobs a letter asking him for a favor. It was a “gimme a laptop, pretty please” kind of letter that was totally not serious. I received a reply from an Apple representative, but not from Steve himself.

I don’t care that he never wrote me back. That’s fine. He gave me the inspiration and understanding to really live my life, and I can’t thank him enough for that.

Using his words, “You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

Thank you, Steve, for the great advice.

Don’t be so scared of Growing Up

I’m turning 29 tomorrow. I’m a bit more bummed out about it than I expected.

I think that I’ve reached the age where birthdays don’t really mean much anymore. After all, I can already drive, drink, and gamble — what’s left to get excited about? Instead of getting excited, I’m getting scared. I’m almost 30!

When I was younger, 30 seemed so far away. I imagined it as an age where I’d have my life all sorted out. I imagined having a good job by then. I thought maybe I’d have a house. Maybe I’d even be starting my own family. At the very least, I expected to have a real handle on my career choice.

I see people on Facebook — kids I grew up with — who are all married with children. It makes me wonder if I’ve been left in the dust. Seriously, what was I doing when everyone else was getting “all grown up,” with their big people jobs and big people responsibilities? I compare myself to them and somehow think I’m failing at life.

Thankfully, it’s just a passing feeling. I know that people reach milestones in their lives at different times, and truthfully, I’m still not quite ready for any of that yet. Yes, I’m disappointed that my career plans have been more frustrating than successful for most of my life, but that’s okay. I’m still figuring things out, and things will fall into place on my own time.

Still, my birthday always makes me realize that yet another year has passed. It makes me think about what I’ve accomplished in the last year, and keeps me in check: Am I still making progress towards my goals?

Thinking quickly, in the past year I have:

  • moved to a nicer but less-expensive apartment,
  • saved up some money,
  • learned to read sheet music,
  • interviewed for three better jobs,
  • become an uncle,
  • taken a long vacation,
  • decided to leave a job with no upwards momentum,
  • started writing in my blog more often,
  • pursued further education, and
  • branched off in a new direction to write professionally.

I’m not sure if my decision to return to school for creative writing is going to result in the job of my dreams or not. I don’t know if the road I’m taking will lead me to the life I aspire to be living. I do know, that I’m a mess of mixed emotions: mostly nervous, a bit excited, quite determined, and often scared.

I remember reading someone’s advice column, where they reflected on their life choices. They said that during the transition periods, if they were terrified about what they were doing, they took it as a positive sign. It was how they knew that they were on the right track. I have no idea if this will ring true for me — but I’m anxious to see where this next year will take me.

Cheers, to the next chapter in life! Let’s make it awesome!

Cheers, to the next chapter in life!

What’s more important to you than money?

Every once in a while someone contacts me with a question I can’t answer: What should I do with my life? I try to steer their question back at them, admitting how finding and embracing your passion is something personal.

Recently I’ve been thinking about methods for identifying your life’s purpose, and I keep returning to the simplest method. Just ask yourself, what would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money anymore?

I’m going to borrow a paragraph from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, from an article titled Living Twice. Below, Goldberg describes the seemingly backwards priorities that writers have regarding their creative process:

You’re more interested in living life again in your writing than in making money. Now, let’s understand–writers do like money; artists, contrary to popular belief, do like to eat. It’s only that money isn’t the driving force. I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck and no time to work at my real work. Think of it. Employers pay salaries for time. That is the basic commodity that human beings have that is valuable. We exchange our time in life for money. Writers stay with the first step–their time–and feel it is valuable even before they get money for it. They hold on to it and aren’t so eager to sell it. It’s like inheriting land from your family. It’s always been in your family: they have always owned it. Someone comes along and wants to buy it. Writers, if they are smart, won’t sell too much of it. They know once it’s sold, they might be able to buy a second car, but there will be no place they can go to sit still, no place to dream on.

The entire article spoke to me, but the line that resonates to the core of my being is “I feel very rich when I have time to write and very poor when I get a regular paycheck.” When I read that, my mind clicks in agreement — Yes, that’s the story of my life. Exactly!

I’ve had a lot of different jobs. None of them have been awful, but they haven’t been wonderful either. For me, work has always been a love-hate relationship: I love appearing outwardly normal and successful, and it’s great having money to spend on food, bills, and hobbies — but I HATE wasting so much of my time doing things I’m not interested in!

It’s a cycle: I’ll spend a few years working, and I’ll save up some money. Then the moment I’ve got enough money stockpiled to hold me for a while… I run like mad!!

Off to seek my fortune

“I’m off to seek my dreams, suckers!!”

Right now, the notion of retirement is a foreign concept to me. I think that Brian Johnson’s Think Arete Manifesto describes it best: “Work our asses off doing something we’re not passionate about so we can accumulate enough money to pay the bills from our stress-caused illnesses while we bitch about what we should have done when we were still young.”

I’ve sprinkled my life with several, short-lived “mini-retirements” where I do what I want, when I want, while I’m still young. Maybe these temporary retreats that I’m taking are only a year or two, and maybe people look at me like I’m a worthless lazy bum. The thing is, spending my time doing things that are important to me is THE MOST important thing to me. More important than money, at least until it runs out.

My biggest fear is a life wasted. Consequently, I’m constantly thinking about whether or not the things I’m spending my time on are worthwhile. If three years on the job has turned my workday into a game where I see how much of the day I can spend doing nothing, then it’s clearly time for me to move on to something else.

For me, and I suppose for many writers, time spent writing is more important than money. When you take away my time to create, even if it’s in exchange for a decent job that pays well, it’s painful for me. I see it as so much time lost.

So if you’re wondering what to do with your life, just think about how you’d most like to be spending your time. What would you do if you were naturally wealthy? What would you do even if you didn’t get paid to do it? What is more important to you than money?

Whatever it is that’s most important to you is your passion in life — and your PASSION in life is what you SHOULD BE DOING with your life. Now go do it.

How to Make Money Online: It’s Working!

I’m excited! Ever since I began to write in my blog more frequently, it’s been earning more money! Today I’d like to show you my newest “Blogging High Score” — my largest monthly Google Adsense check yet! It’s over $250!

Make Money Online: Google Adsense Check High Score

Click my face for the full size image, or here’s a closeup of the check amount:

Make Money Online: Google Adsense Check High Score Closeup

I’m thrilled because this is a simple proof of concept: If I write more blog posts, then my blog will earn more money.

Although LifeReboot can still earn money automatically when I’m not publishing new content, the act of writing consistently will attract more readers to my website. With this in mind, if I truly want to earn a living online, I need to put in the time and effort necessary to write more articles and grow my audience.

Speaking of my audience, I need to thank you again for reading! It’s fun for me, but I would never have stuck with it if it weren’t for the kind feedback you’ve always given. I appreciate all of the emails, comments, and stories that you send to me — and I hope that you are sharing in my excitement as LifeReboot continues to grow!

If you’re interested in learning how to make money online from your website, you may want to check out my series on how to make money online.

Today’s the Day: Stop Wasting Time and Start Living the Life You Really Want to Live

I don’t know, maybe it was just shock and it’s wearing off now, but when I saw that fat man keel over and die – Michael, we don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.

— Peter Gibbons, Office Space

I just finished reading a book by Ken Grimwood called “Replay.” It’s the story of a man who dies, but instead of going to heaven or hell he’s sent back to his younger life. Everything that he did after college in his “first life” — his failing marriage, his lousy career — is instantly undone through death. He is reborn in his own past as a young adult, with a fresh start to try his life over again.

It was an interesting concept, and an enjoyable read. You get to watch the main character Jeff use his knowledge of future events to make a lot of money, but it doesn’t make him happy. You get to watch Jeff use the money to attract loose women, but that doesn’t make him happy either. It’s an interesting story about the life choices one makes, and the results that those choices will bring.

Replay - A novel by Ken Grimwood

The underlying message, I felt, was that of time. In his new life, Jeff knows the age at which he will die of heart failure. With this understanding of exactly how much time he has left to live, he does his best not to waste any moment of his “replay.”

What I thought was most interesting about Jeff’s character was how it took the drastic act of DYING before Jeff actually started changing his life. He was living miserably with a woman he had grown to hate, and the stress of his job was literally killing him. The heart attack that ended his first life happened on the job.

In his replay, Jeff returns to the same spot where he met his wife the first time. His plan is to really communicate with her this second time around, instead of harboring his feelings of discontent to the point where their marriage is broken. Similarly, he makes informed career choices in a conscious effort to pursue real happiness, rather than simply going through to motions to collect a paycheck. It is interesting to think about how in Jeff’s previous life, he worked to earn money which only served to fuel the tormenting nature of his unspectacular life. Put another way, he was “working to live” without having a life that was worth living!

The thing is, I believe that many people live this way. You want a different life but you’re stuck in your current one. You don’t act upon your impulses to really pursue the life that you want, because you’re afraid of the potential consequences. You’re terrified of losing what you already have.

I’ve often been places in my life where I was terribly unhappy, but year after year I’d suffer through it, simply waiting for something to happen — waiting for something to change. The difference between our life and Jeff’s, though, is that we don’t get another shot at it. There is no second chance.

I was thinking about this underlying message, and went to research Replay’s author, Ken Grimwood. I was hoping to contact him to say that I really enjoyed his book, and that I had similar interests in living the life that I want to live with no regrets.

What I found was that Ken Grimwood had died in 2003. In fact, he died of a heart attack, while writing the sequel to Replay.

When I found out, the message that I had already learned from Grimwood’s novel was really driven home: We only get one shot at life, so don’t waste yours.

I believe that Grimwood was writing a little bit of himself into his main character Jeff. I hope that before he died, Grimwood was satisfied with the life that he had chosen as a writer. I’m grateful for the story that he’s added to the world, and I’m upset that I missed my chance to contact him. That being said, I’m determined to help propagate the message I believe Grimwood was trying to convey:

If you’re waiting for the “perfect time” to start making changes in your life, know that you’ll grow old and die before it ever happens. Perfect timing doesn’t exist. Right now is all that we have. If you’re not who you want to be, then I implore you to start living the life you really want to live. Start now. Today’s the day.