“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.” – Steve Jobs
These words from Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech stand out. Let us try and unpack them a little.
Ever since we are old enough to think for ourselves, we start developing a world-view that informs our principles. Our words, actions and decisions tend to align with these principles to construct an ideal of our self. Let us call this ideal our ‘honest self’. When we are consistent with our honest self, there is harmony within. When there is dissonance, we experience suffering. Mahatma Gandhi’s lifelong discovery and alignment with his honest self is what he called his “experiments with truth”.
Jobs spoke those words to a group of brilliant minds on the threshold of their professional careers. We live in a world where we spend at least a quarter of our waking hours at work. Our professional roles align to some degree with our honest selves. When this overlap is sufficient, we are proud of the change we are creating, and we focus on developing our craft. Over time, this mastery manifests as energy and passion that spills over into other realms of our life.
On the other hand, if our professional self aligns insufficiently with our honest self, this forces us to be inauthentic for several hours each day. This misalignment causes stress on a daily basis that snowballs into resentment. And when that happens, we suffer, and find ourselves doing things we regret. This discontent could also spill over into other aspects of our life.
When we look into a mirror, especially on the last day of our lives, we would like our honest self and not somebody we pretend to be. And when do that does not happen often enough in our daily lives, it might just be time to steer the ship.