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.
No, this isn’t some kind of exposé or anecdote about young Steve Jobs going to school. It’s about the ethic he espoused and lived by: love what you do.
When my kids were young they went to the local elementary school, just two long blocks away from our house. For small kids, though, two blocks is a long way. And the street at the end they had to cross to get to the school loomed wider for them than it would for you and me. Fortunately, at the crossing, was Anita. No last name — just Anita.
Anita was the school crossing guard. She was middle-aged and motherly in her way, but it wasn’t a cuddly bosomy sentimental way. Anita was trim and brisk and funny. She knew the name of every child who went on foot to that school. For years and years and years. Hundreds and hundreds of kids, she knew every one, and greeted them by name, with a smile. They would kid around, sometimes, and I’m sure occasionally hugs were involved, but I only know this by inference, because my kids had their own relationship with Anita, and I wasn’t part of it.
Being a school crossing guard is not generally considered a high-profile, high-status job. It certainly isn’t a highly paid one. When Anita ultimately retired, it was headline news in the community, there was a huge party for her and an outpouring of love that hadn’t had a way of expression before. Just as with Steve Jobs — nobody has to ask, Hmmmm, WHAT Steve Jobs? In this smaller, also vital, circle, everybody knew who Anita was. My kids are in their forties now, but you can ask them about Anita. They’ll still light up.
The simple secret, of course, is that Anita loved what she did. She loved kids, she loved connecting with them daily, and she never stopped loving it all.
Does it matter ultimately whether she was headline news or not? Whether she made a gazillion dollars or not? I think Steve Jobs would be the first to maintain that it doesn’t. That for lives to be touched, good to be accomplished, happiness to be achieved by the doer — it is sufficient to love what one does.
Once I was driving on a road and came to the dreaded orange cones of construction ahead and sure enough, suddenly I was inching through a long line of traffic. Up ahead was a construction worker holding the red staff, you know, like the one Moses probably held to cross the Red Sea: on one side it says STOP and on the other it says SLOW. As I got closer I was aware that he wasn’t just standing still, he was moving, moving — And when I got closer still I saw that what he was doing was dancing. He was moving like a toreador, like a ballet dancer, gracefully, and he had a big grin on his face — probably because he kept seeing astonished faces like mine, faces that would break into a grin that matched his grin, at least for a moment.
Now that’s not what anybody would call a glamorous job — But, you know, I remember him to this day, which is easily twenty years ago. As we say, that’s not chopped liver. To impact someone in a positive way, to conjure up delight over twenty years — you have to love what you’re doing. And I know Steve Jobs would be agreeing with me. His own life wasn’t so smooth and easy as it might appear: see this Wikipedia entry especially for his early years. He not only talked the talk (don’t miss his 2005 Stanford commencement address) — he walked the walk.
Thousands of years ago the great Rabbi Hillel asked three momentous questions:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
If not now, when?
If that’s a quiz, then Steve Jobs passed with flying colors.
So did Anita. So did that anonymous construction worker. And how about us?