Go to work each day as it were your last day (aka Steve Job’s conspiracy)

This post is about getting happier at work, the surprising effects of physical exercise, and the spirit of Steve Jobs channeled through my iPod.

For a couple of days I’ve had this idea buzzing in my head with the obnoxious persistence of a silly tune. The thought was to write a post about going to work each day as it were your last day.

No, I don’t mean going to your boss and telling him what a @#%@ he is, or arriving to work at noon, half naked, and intoxicated (after all, chances are that even if it’s your last day at your current job, you may still want to work in the future). What I mean is learning how to focus on the important things and let go of the minor actions that clutter your work day because you “gotta do them” or are good for your career.

With this idea still stuck in my head, yesterday I went to the gym, I put my headphones on, and cranked my iPod up. After Madonna’s Ray of light, guess what the next shuffled mp3 in my queue was? Yup, Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford.

Steve Jobs talks at Stanford on June 12, 2005

Now, I’ve always known that my iPod has a soul. A silicon chip soul, but a soul nonetheless. She (my iPod is a girl: an old fashion girl in a pink case) has her own music favorites she manages to squeeze in with statistical improbability via the “random” shuffle.

Still, her timing of Steve Job’s speech was disturbing; the iPod delivered it when I was completely vulnerable to its influence, and got to the track early enough in my workout so that I could not avoid to listen to the entire speech and have time to think about it. (I am starting to suspect that Steve Jobs has plans for minds’ domination through iPod subliminal messages).

Anyway, in his speech (transcript | In italiano | video), as many of you know, Steve Jobs, among many other wise comments and inspiring stories, talks about how to use the awareness of impermanence to make your life insanely great.

(…) 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.

The superficial interpretation of Steve Job’s advice is that when we find ourselves in front of that mirror telling ourselves we don’t like what we are doing too many days in a row, we need to find another job. Perhaps we also need to move to a far land, sell everything we have, and get on a brown-rice-only diet. But if you examine Jobs’ life, you’ll realize that he never left Silicon Valley and he never really changed Jobs; although he was fired from Apple once, he continued to hang around. He built more companies, kept alive his vision, and eventually was back at Apple as if nothing happened.

Steve continues:

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.

Easy for you to say, Mr. Jobs. I wonder if Steve Jobs has a clue of what living “someone else’s life” means. Perhaps when he was younger he had a few existential doubts. He must have noticed that some people didn’t believe in his ideas from time to time. He says that being fired from Apple was quite traumatic at the time. Still, I don’t believe he can understands how hard and confusing searching for the hidden and elusive path to our “own life” (as opposed to someone else’s life) and to job satisfaction can be.

After looking at myself in the mirror and confessing that no, I probably don’t want to continue doing what I am doing now for the rest of my life, I decided to be as happy at work as I can. I don’t want to feel miserable, not even for a moment. I don’t want to complain one more time that “they don’t know how to use me” (uhh, that’s going to be hard to do). I want to learn to use myself the right way so I can teach my employer how to do it too. I want to learn what makes me happy at work, right here, right now. I may decide to change jobs in the future, but how much better is going to be if I don’t learn the path to work happiness from where I am now?

For now, I am giving myself permission to feel and notice what I enjoy doing and what I hate rather than just what it’s good for me and what I have to do; what makes me feel alive and in a flow and what drains me and makes me feel miserable. I’m giving myself permission to be daring in the choice of what I take on and what I turn down or delegate.

Being at work this way feels a lot lighter and slightly more frightening. Perhaps I will not get such a good evaluation at year-end. Perhaps I will not make everybody happy. But there is one person that I want to make happy this time, for a change: not my dad, not my boss, not my dutiful superego, but myself.

I’ll let Steve Jobs end this post. I know: in his speech he is addressing young fellows just out of college, not middle-age people still trying to find out what they want do when they grow up. He is talking to the new, not to the old. What can I say? Blame my iPod and Steve Jobs’ plans for world domination. And in the meanwhile:

Stay hungry, stay foolish.

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3 thoughts on “Go to work each day as it were your last day (aka Steve Job’s conspiracy)

  1. Really enjoyed this post. It touched on what I realized a few nights ago after too many weeks trying to keep up with too many blogs, keep up with too many new programming frameworks and basically just overloading on the external. It is definitely time to look more inside and taking a look at Steve’s speech sounds like a good idea. Not that it will provide any answers to the existential dogging questions, but it will hopefully be as inspiring as your post. Thanks for pointing it out.

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