Somewhere out there, there is life outside of work. And death has a powerful way of teaching us about life. Steve Jobs was well aware of the frailty of life and often spoke about how the knowledge of death, is what motivated him to live better, to be less concerned with what others thought of him and more so with what he must do. In our own lives, death has the power to transform us—to make us re-visit our priorities and relationships; to re-gain balance and perspective for ourselves.

Whether we experience the death of someone close to us or we learn of our own critical illness, we may find that facing death forces us to stop and seriously think about our lives. Death motivates us to shed ill-fitting expectations that have been placed on us by parents, spouses or others who have power in our life—providing us newfound freedom to pursue our own dreams or go beyond what we previously thought we could do.

And certainly, death brings a new sense of our own mortality and forces us to appreciate our life in a different, more time-sensitive, way, as was so for Steve Jobs. To quote from his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, “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.”

Jobs continued to say, “And 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.”

So often, death has provided an impetus for change—moving many people to change their paths, find their purpose or live more genuinely. Death also forces us to develop new skills as we struggle to cope with its impact and find inner strength that we did not know we had. We learn to accept the fragility of life and the limits of control in our world. Through this process, we become stronger, surer and more at peace.

But death is only one motivator. Steve Jobs did not succeed at everything he did. But his failures did not deter him. Rather, they motivated him to work harder and keep going. Business investors such as Ross Perot, who invested $20 million in Steve Jobs company “NeXT,” attests that after resigning from Apple, the company he had started, “He picked himself up, dusted himself off and started all over again.”:

As Jobs testified, his success at Apple was rooted in the fact that he was fired from Apple, the company he had started, years earlier. “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple.” Here, Jobs displayed his ability to learn from the mistakes of one’s past, using them to help launch a better future.

Perhaps, this is the true meaning of what religions may call “repentance”—acknowledging our personal failures and then to keep building until our failures become a springboard for success. Steve Jobs didn’t settle for less because he experienced failure. He kept looking for new ways to succeed and found them. He said that his model for business was The Beatles. “They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts.”

It seems that, for Steve Jobs, failure taught him what not to do and he learned from it; applying the lessons learned to help him move forward more successfully the next time around. And he kept negative tendencies in check; surrounding himself with positive, “can do” people.

Early on in his career, Jobs was able to “Think Different,” which became the motto for Apple. He pursued life with passion and purpose capitalizing on his unique strengths that came from this realization, “Everything that’s made up of life, that other people have made, you can make too. Once you realize that, you’ll never be the same.”

He set daily goals for himself and his clarity of purpose was so mesmerizing it brought him many followers. Steve Jobs revolutionized four industries: computer, music, motion pictures and telecommunications; an accomplishment that even Thomas Edison couldn’t top. The life of Steve Jobs provides lessons for all of us, if we stop to listen and learn.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.