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What Steve Jobs can teach us about life – and death

Who hasn’t been touched by the untimely death of Steve Jobs, the genius behind Apple, yesterday? Even our clients have been coming in with stories about him. Today, a client who knew Steve Jobs told me about what an amazing, inspirational and straight-talking man he was.

As for me: I am writing this post on my Apple iPad; I listen to music on my Apple iPod; I make calls on my Apple iPhone. All Apple products are functional and visually stunning, just as Steve Jobs intended them to be, but they are something more as well.

Yesterday, after reading the news, I watched the ultimate in brave and stylish speeches: Steve Jobs’ speech on the meaning of life and death at Stanford University in 2005. At that time, perhaps he thought he had beaten his cancer. Even if he hadn’t, he had clearly accepted the reality and certainty of death – and he said so. He would go on to fight for six more years, but he respected the inevitability of what no-one, including him, could put off forever.

That day at Stanford University, Steve Jobs bared his soul. He began by telling a story of his humble beginnings as an adopted child, originally destined for a family of lawyers who, upon his birth, decided that they wanted a girl instead. So a young Steve Jobs was adopted by another family, who spent their entire life savings on his college education having promised to give him that education. Poor as they were, they gave him not only an education, but values and the courage to face his challenges with decency and humility.

The overall message of his speech was clear: death is certain. It serves a purpose: to clear out the old and usher in the new. And once you have looked death in the face, you lose your fear. So forget about fear and live your life to the full. Enjoy what you do and if you don’t, don’t waste time. Change course and do it fearlessly. How wise and how beautifully written. I think he guessed, correctly, that this speech would become his epitaph.

I couldn’t help but notice that Steve Jobs died during what is, in Judaism, the holiest week of the year. Around the world we are contemplating our own future and ultimately, our own mortality. Most of us, who have never stared death in the face, are fearful of what we do not understand and approach it with dread. Steve Jobs’ advice was to do otherwise. He was an example of how to live your life while living with death.  And what an example he and his achievements are to the rest of us.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jewish people, starts tonight. On this day we seek forgiveness, but we also mark our sincere intention to live our lives to the very best we can in the year to come. This message is the same as the message given by Steve Jobs to the students at Stanford University.

This year, Yom Kippur has begun with the untimely death of one of the world’s most brilliant figures, who gave so much to us and whose cruel, prolonged fight for life doesn’t seem fair or right. But life throws curve balls. Life comes out of the left field.

There is no easy answer to why some live long lives and some don’t, why some are raised up to great heights and others not, but – aside from his creative legacy – what Steve Jobs has left us is a great example. Or as he put it, a story. Life is surely for everyone, about the quality of what you can achieve, rather than the quantity of your existence. Every day our newspapers are filled with tragic stories of young people who never got the chance to do what Steve Jobs did, but who have achieved much within their short lifetimes, and that’s what matters. After all, life is for living.

There’s a great deal about the enduring qualities life offers us all to consider in that Stanford University speech, as I believe Steve Jobs always intended there to be, and I will have time to think over Yom Kippur. When he makes reference to the seemingly hopeless times of his life, such as when he dropped out of college and when he temporarily left Apple in 1985, he says that with retrospect, these were the best things that could ever have happened to him. He took advantage of them and turned defeat into success.

Steve Jobs, for me, in death you have made Yom Kippur come alive. Rest in Peace.

Chatimah Tovah and Well over the Fast to all.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Lukey says:

    Steve Jobs was a truly remarkable man, I am very glad you put his 2005 Stanford speech up – people should hear this speech.

  2. What Steve Jobs can teach us about life – and death « Untouched Smile | Care Your Child says:

    […] What Steve Jobs can teach us about life – and death is a post from: Marilyn Stowe Family Law and Divorce Blog […]

  3. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Yesterday was a tough day. Fasting for 26hours is not easy. But it’s doable. I read a very short book written by the Chief Rabbi especially for yesterday. Called Letters to the Next Generation in a few chapters he deals with all the questions to which there are no easy answers. I found myself thinking “yes!” page after page.
    Steve Jobs asked similar questions and came up with similar answers. In fact he featured twice in the book.
    Underneath we are all the same, and the human spirit makes us do things we think we can’t. We have to keep telling ourselves we can do things, we can face challenges, and despite whatever we have to face, we have to keep going and just do our best. And in the end that’s what we do.
    The day ended with the Leeds Rhinos winning the Rugby League Grand Final. I only saw the last fifteen minutes because of Yom Kippur, but I’ve got it Sky Plussed to watch today.
    What they’ve achieved this season too is absolutely fantastic. They were written off. But they didnt give in.They fought
    back.They haven’t looked back after losing the Challenge Cup Final which funnily enough was the last time the winners Wigan played well. Leeds Rhinos kept going and proved all the doubters wrong. Finishing fifth in the league and winning the ultimate prize of the Grand Final is amazing. I heard the pundits on TV saying it’s the best Grand Final ever so I’m really looking forward to a great afternoon – big glass of wine and the result in the bag…..
    Thanks Lukey for your comment.

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