Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Following Your Dreams

Never thought I'd be quoting Steve Jobs,co-founder of Apple Computers, but then again, a whole post on Charlie Sheen graced these pages not too long ago, so anything's possible. And, just to add to the fun, the Jobs quotes are from a guest post by a former writer for the Wall Street Journal and Fortune, two of the largest mouth organs of Corporate America.

The Jobs quotes came from a 2005 graduation address at Standford University. Jobs had been diagnosed with cancer a year earlier, which maybe adds a bit of context to the following:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool that I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Even though I have felt distracted most of the day, and irritated that a couple of people haven't responded to messages I sent a few days ago, these words are still inspiring. And yet, being in the position I am in - not employed, not sure what the next "big thing" is, and getting stuck at times in thoughts that I'm "wasting too much time," it's easy to take Jobs' comments about remembering death as a call to get my act together before it's too late.

However, when I read the above statements alongside these words from the same speech, I can see how the deliberate meandering I have taken up over the past several months might be exactly the way to keep "following my heart."

“Reed College at the time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class and learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, and about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.”

“If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, “ Jobs explained, “the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionately spaced ones. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

Even though I have always questioned the norms, some of them have still colonized my mind in ways I'm only now beginning to see. The "success" storyline of moving from one job to the next in a linear, preferable upward in responsibility and salary fashion, is one of those norms I have long struggled with. Following my heart is something I have tried to do, while also having a voice in my head saying "yeah, man, people admire you for taking the risk, but in the end, will say 'I told you so' when you fall on your ass."

What I notice right away is the assumption of some future failure in that voice, as well as the view that I'm basically only worthy of support when I'm doing well and being productive somehow. Another thing is that the whole thing is built on caring too much about what others think. It's an interesting defense mechanism, one that I see as an attempt to protect myself in a society that has never valued much of anything I love and stand for.

Part of me wants to say thank you to that inner voice for keeping a fire under me for all these years, for helping me achieve all that I have achieved.

And another part of me is so damned tired of it. Tired of its suck on my confidence and resilience. Tired of its incessant chattering whenever I go on a date, come up with a new career idea, or try a new yoga pose or teaching technique in my yoga teacher training.

Right now, I'm doing a lot of "dropping in," just as Steve Jobs did with that calligraphy class. Where it will all lead exactly, I don't know. But what I do know is that in the face of that I don't know, all the doubts, fears, and norms that have colonized my mind over the past 35 years are coming right to the surface.

And you know, I'm kind of tired of that too. But I can handle "being tired of" - it's workable. The toxins seem to be slowly moving on out.

May we all follow our hearts, however long and confusing the roadblocks in the way might be.

*On second thought, it's not terribly surprising that Steve Jobs would appear on these pages, given his Buddhist practice.


Unknown said...

The interesting thing about all that "chatter" is that it doesn't end with consistency, employment, marriage, happiness or success. It is a constant, mind-numbing tirade - the "soundtrack" of our lives.

Good luck with your searching.


Was Once said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Was Once said...

Nathan, know that we are forever stuck in the past or some future ideal or fear in our mind. It is the nature of our mind to think, and all we go to... is what we have been taught, and hence learned.
I would like to suggest a 10-day Vipassana, as a way of really seeing how this plays out in our body. And it will only help your Zen practice.

Nathan said...

The chatter may or may not change, and may or may not quiet down. It's how you approach it that matters. I'm trying to approach the particular narratives I mentioned in the post differently. And actually, being tired of them is a difference.