Craig Dearden-Phillips: Do you pass the Steve Jobs test?

You should follow your passion rather than do work you don't like, writes our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Holidays are often a time for reflection as well as relaxation. What am I really doing with my life? Am I enjoying my job? Am I facing my 'true north'? All of these questions are easily ignored as we kayak through the rapids of day-to-day existence. On holiday, however, they tend to break the surface and command our attention. The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, had a lot to say about the question of how to use your life.

In 2005, he addressed a graduation ceremony at Stanford University (the speech is available on YouTube) and said three important things that I happen to agree with.

The first was "don't settle". By this, Jobs was imploring his young audience not to make horrible compromises just for a quiet or comfortable life, either in work or matters of the heart.

His second message was that life goes by very quickly and that you use your life well only if you follow your true interests and passions, regardless of where this takes you or what other people might think.

His third message was to see failure as the imposter it is. He told the story of dropping out of university and dropping in on a calligraphy course that gave him the ideas for how Apple's unique iconography would look.

What about our little lives, though? Can we afford to follow our passions when mortgages need to be paid? Isn't life really about keeping the show on the road and accepting a certain amount of crap on the way?

I used to think this, but as time has ticked by, I have changed my view. For a start, I have largely given up doing things I don't like. This includes sitting on two trustee boards and half of the networking I used to do. Life is too short to be stuck in drab meetings that you don't enjoy.

Indeed, when I look back on my own 44 years of life, the best stuff has happened after following my passion. This involved leaving academia and going to work in care, quitting a decent career in a large national charity to set up what is now VoiceAbility, exiting that excellent organisation to go into business and, most recently, quitting politics after a wrong turn into local government.

None of these decisions were particularly easy. All meant, on some level, saying "this is not really working out". But these high-dives also brought me far closer to doing what I most profoundly enjoy and what brings out the best of me.

So what will you be thinking about this summer by the pool? If you feel marooned in a bad situation but believe there is no choice, remember that a person with renewed focus and passion is far more likely to make a success of something new. Things will probably work out if you make that move.

In the words of Steve Jobs, you owe it to yourself to keep searching for that which you love to do. And to never, ever settle.

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at www.stepping-out.biz

Craig Dearden-Phillips is managing director of Stepping Out

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