In a commencement address delivered at Stanford University in 2005, a speech that many are reading again this week, Steve Jobs told assembled graduates he was lucky to have found what he loved to do early in life.
Sharing the tips that led to his phenomenal rise out of the garage and into major market success on the back of the Apple brand, his talk had a clear message:
“… 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.”
Even as Jobs went on to describe the challenge of being sidelined by the company he founded at age 30, the language of love captured his sensibility: “I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.”
Jobs’s Stanford speech, one of scores he would deliver during his remarkable career, remains characteristic of his energy and enthusiasm. The belief that kept him going during his period in the wilderness “was that I loved what I did”.
With the passing of Jobs this week, we are also mourning a man who defined a new kind of worker.
The Jobs world-view consecrates the sacrifices of an ambitious, dedicated, and committed professional class that seeks recognition and passion in creative work.
The language of love and intimacy is central to this career project.
Over the past two decades, IT hardware manufacturers have made fortunes selling products through an association with the fantasy of satisfying, challenging work.
By 2010, BlackBerry’s ad campaign took Jobs’s lessons literally with the slogan, “Love what you do”. Creative workers featured in the campaign were seen conquering their dreams with the assistance of mobile technology.
Yet this fantasy is – in the classic sense of love – a romantic vision of the contemporary workplace.