Picking a Bone with Jobs’ Quote

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

— Steve Jobs

I like Steve Jobs. And I like to follow my heart. But, with due respect, I still think this oft quoted passage is problematic and needs a more balanced perspective—here are some of the reasons why:

1. Not everyone has the privilege of doing “what they believe is great work.” Millions of people in the world are doing jobs that may not have been their primary career choice—and that is putting it politely. For example, they may be making the small parts that no one sees, the parts that run the machines that guys like Steve Jobs envisions. They are the tasks many of us would call drudgery, but many are simply glad and thankful to have the work at all, at a time when choices are limited. Perhaps they’ll make a change later, but should they be miserable until then because they don’t believe the work is “great work?” (Changing their belief is therefore the place to start, which brings me to #2.)

2. And about the claim that “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” it seems to me that what you believe can be changed. You don’t have to marry your beliefs. Beliefs are just beliefs and they change with our maturity level and with our experiences and with 150 other reasons. Heck, they change from day to day—they sway like the palm trees in the wind and can be influenced by our ever-changing perspectives. Thank goodness; that means we’re growing! Thus, I would change “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work” to “the only way to be truly satisfied is to find the greatness in what it is you do.”

3. Finally, toward the notion that, “like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on,” I would like to serve up a reality check—what makes great relationships great, is when all parties understand that it’s not always fun and it doesn’t always “feel good.” All relationships have their ups and downs. And equally so with the work we do. It won’t always be the way you dreamed it would be, you won’t always feel like going, and you might one day feel like you don’t like your job anymore. It seems to me that the truly liberated and wise will take those days in stride and remember not to get caught up in those temporary feelings. And from a clear connection to the importance of what it is they are doing—because everything has its place and purpose, along with a good dose of gratitude, they will undoubtedly maintain a consistently cheerful attitude.

We might liken this cheerful person—who finds the beauty in what it is he does—to the Greek mythical character, Sisyphus, who continues to push his rock with a smile…without telling himself that the task is ridiculous and absurd.

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3 responses to “Picking a Bone with Jobs’ Quote

  1. Simon the Englishman

    Hi Donna,
    Like the take on Steve Jobs quote but his universalistic vision fo finding the right job to make you happy was of course flawed from the start. As you quite rightly point out not eveyone has the luxury of a free, stable, unoppressed, economically buoyant society within which to job hop or the opportunity/intellectual capability to do so. Yet his admonition “not to settle” is one I find preferable in its non conformist optimism. Personally I’m very settled in my often drudge like job and searching for anything else, whilst possible, is too stressy.
    I go along with your view that its a question of changing your beliefs/viewpoint (though you know my outlook on belief!) but I think king Sisyphus is perhaps not the best example to look to! In the original myth he thoroughly deserved his frustrating fate being as he was a bit of a psycho (taking enjoyment in murdering travellers and guests to his court, seducing his niece, plotting his brothers murder. Typical ancient greek royal wacko). Also in the original myth he took no pleasure in his task. This interpretation was added on to give it an optimistic spin.
    I can see your point though in regard to the monkey mind aspect of “don’t settle” and think that a certain degree of “surrendering to what is” would go far to improving peoples lives. Not though to the exclusion of improving the lives of those whose work/life situation is one of suffering and opression of course. If everything has a purpose and that situation is part of the purpose I think its fair for those in it to ignore the divine purpose and not settle. If you have been given a bad part in the theatre of life you are allowed to rewrite your part (since that may be what you’re supposed to do anyway in the scheme of things). Can you think of another example to look to for inspiration in relation to this post?
    Looking forward to future posts
    Regards
    Simon

  2. Hello Donna,

    While I agree with your views in this post generally, I want to note that the context of Jobs’ quote should be considered:
    It was from a speech he held at Stanford University for graduated students, i.e. with his words he addressed mainly this target group.
    The whole speech (which is very interesting) can be found on YouTube – keywords “Steve Jobs” and “Stanford” should lead you there.

    Gassho,

    Timo

    • Thanks for your comment, Timo. I know the speech and don’t wholeheartedly dislike it, just as I don’t wholeheartedly dislike the message–just think it has, to use a Buddhist friend’s word, “elitist” tendencies and needed tempering.

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