In his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs rather famously advised those fresh-faced graduates to wake up each morning and ask themselves the following: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” He continued, saying “And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
After Jobs’ passing last week, my husband was listening to the commencement address and he posed Jobs’ question to me. Was I happy with my work? Did I have any regrets about our life? Was I doing what I loved?
While I’d probably want to spend my last few days on a Caribbean beach or in a tapas bar in Madrid (or somewhere similarly wonderful and relaxing), that’s not a practical option for everyday existence. So, barring living life as one long vacation (which would probably get tedious after awhile anyway), I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing in my day to day life than what I do now.
The decision to forgo the pursuit of a tenure-track position in academia was probably the best of my life. I love teaching and researching part time. It’s like taking all the best things about being an academic and sloughing away all the worst things. I can’t think of a job that provides so much bang in terms of stimulation and fun and still allows me to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. And that’s the real gravy. When I get to sit down at my computer at 10am on Wednesday and know that (excepting that lecture I haven’t finished) I can spend the entire rest of the day making up stories that maybe, just maybe, someone other than my dad and my crit partners will want to read…well, yeah, to me that’s a life well-lived.
Are there things about my life that are a bummer? Of course. Do I wish I could change X or Y? Naturally. Do I encounter disappointment, frustration, and – from time to time – a burning hatred of my day job (say, for instance, when it’s time to grade exams…)? Hell yes.
Still, I wouldn’t trade it away. I can look in the mirror in the morning and feel that should death sweep out of nowhere to claim me, I am living the life I want for myself. That is a gift.
Thank you, Steve, for making me realize it.
So, what about you? Can you say the same?