Steve Jobs once famously said during a Stanford Graduation Speech that:
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 you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
These quotes always stick with me. They did before Steve Jobs recently passed away, and they do now following his untimely death. I think they struck such a chord with me, because I read them during a period in my life where I hated my job. And were I to look in the mirror, I could not honestly saying I was doing something I loved, spending time with people who cared about me or vice versa, or that I was even making a positive difference in people’s lives.
But that advice is also a lot easier to say when you’re a millionaire, like Steve Jobs. They are a lot easier to say when you have already made it. We all know that making a life change is difficult. It’s not easy to quit the dead-end job, or end that negative relationship. It’s not easy to go out on a limb and make a big change in your life. Because what if you do, and you realize that all along the problem isn’t that job–or that significant other—but rather yourself?
I know someone who insists they would be 100% happy, if only they lived on the west coast. I’ve often thought the same thing about myself, and Paris. But when I was traveling recently in Europe, I met an expatriot–a professor from the United States who now lived in Germany. Here’s what he said:
“For a while, everything was different. I was never happier, and I felt like a knew man. But over time, those same old problems, worries, and personal neurosis started seeping back into me. So now I’m just the same man, and no more happy than before—I’m just the same man, only 3,000 miles away on a different continent.”
And deep down, we know on some gut level that this has to be so. That the old study about lottery winners not finding happiness is true. That we are who we are, and there’s not a hell of a lot we can do with it. And if that is so–if we are all, by birth or nature happy or just miserable bastards, then what is the point in striving? In short, if, regardless of our accomplishments, we’re going to wind up with the same issues/fears/ and, yes, Neuroses, then what is the point in changing jobs, or leaving negative relationships?
And yet, from my perspective I feel that this cannot be so. Because I have never felt happier since leaving the job I didn’t like and starting my own business. Sure, I’m not a totally different person, and there are moments where the old tendencies come back or, in some circumstances, never even left, but at the same time I am thus far a happier person because of my happier surroundings.
So how does this fit all together?
How can we think that striving will help, if we are ultimately cursed to never really change?