Connecting the dots Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Tuesday, 28 May 2013 15:28
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You cannot connect the dots forward; you can only do it with hindsight. That is why, when choosing a dot with no way of knowing whether you’re making the right decision, you have to follow your heart; you have to go with what you like doing.

This is more or less what the late Steve Jobs, best known as co-founder of Apple Inc and founder of NeXT Computer, said during his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.

He told the students that he never graduated from college. He dropped out after six months because the courses were costing his adoptive parents a packet, but he stayed on at the college for another 18 months where he dropped in on classes he liked. Steve slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, returned empty Coke bottels for food money and got his one big free meal a week at the local Hare Krishna temple.

He could follow his heart and learn more about anything he wished to without any of the performance anxiety tied to result-oriented studies. One of the courses he dropped in on was calligraphy. He just liked it without seeing how it would be of any use to him in future.

In later years, connecting the dots backwards, he said that if he had never dropped in on the calligraphy course, the Apple Mac would never have had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. At the time of dropping in on the course, though, he had no idea how the dots would connect forward. He just followed his heart.

That, writes author Paulo Coelho, is why you should never try to be useful. “Try to be yourself; that is enough, and that makes all the difference.

“Ask a flower in the field: ‘Do you feel useful? After all, you do nothing but produce the same flowers over and over.’ And the flower will answer: ‘I am beautiful, and beauty is my reason for living.’ Ask the river: ‘Do you feel useful, given that all you do is keep flowing in the same direction?’ And the river will answer: ‘I'm not trying to be useful; I'm trying to be a river.’”

It has taken me my whole life to try to be me. Every now and again, when I get too comfortable with the idea of what-the-me-is, I end up in a rut. Stuck like this, I start acting in habitual ways, moving into a storyline.

We all have a story about how we got to be the way we are and what it’s like to be ‘us’, says Neale Donald Walsch. But that is stuff that has nothing to do with who we are now. How often do you allow ‘your story’ to filter your experience of life? Once you figure out how to recognise when you’re caught by ‘your story’, and what your own style of getting stuck in a rut is, you have a chance to do something different.

“And to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine; that kills you far more quickly,” writes Paulo Coelho. In a way adventures help us to discover who we really are. Usually such discoveries sort of force you to accept that you can go further than you thought you could.

In his commencement speech Steve Jobs spoke about a picture of a road he once saw that spelled adventure to him. It looked like the kind of place an adventurous hitchhiker might catch a lift to who-knows-where.

This picture was published with a farewell message on the back cover of the 1974 edition of ‘The Whole Earth Catalog’. Steve described this publication, representing a whole countercultural movement, as one of the Bibles of his generation . . . sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along.

It was published by Stewart Brand between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally with ‘final editions’ thereafter. Stewart wanted the catalog to provide education and access to tools so that a reader could find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.

The farewell message on the back cover of the ‘The Whole Earth Catalog’ was also Steve’s message to the Stanford University students. I Googled that back page and made it my desktop background. It now greets me every day I switch on my computer.

It says: Stay hungry. Stay foolish.




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