I love this quote. I’ve used it as part of an activity about change with groups for a few years now and found it to be a reliable indicator of the group’s threshhold for change. It’s fascinating to see at what stage the quotation gets rejected or eliminated from the process, or whether it makes it through to the final round. This suggests what’s going to happen in the rest of the workshop. There was one spectacularly memorable occasion when someone got incredibly animated about this quotation, was hugely opposed to it, went very red in the face, and I thought there might be a fistfight between him and a colleague or that he was going to have an apoplectic fit. His manager looked on in disbelief and expressed concern to me afterwards. Several years later, this individual has long since left their organisation, been exposed for fraud (having presented themselves as someone with a professional business qualification when it turns out they had dropped out of art school) and ultimately gone to jail, somehow this occasion echoed in my mind. What was it about this quotation that pushed the buttons? Now I think he thought it was a set-up somehow designed to expose him.
As this is the week of Steve Jobs’ untimely death, the quote came to mind and I was pleased to discover that there was an unofficial version on YouTube with the voiceover provided by Steve. I also rediscovered his 2005 Stanford graduation address which has been quoted a lot this week. Full of wise reflections, 15 minutes listening to him deliver it could not be better spent.
Steve Jobs’ life story involved dropping out of his university degree because it just didn’t stimulate him and following his own course of study, dropping in to the lectures and classes that engaged him. He slept on friends’ floors and just got by in order to follow his intuition and do what he loved. Unlike the man who dropped out and then felt compelled to live a fraudulent life, Steve Jobs dropped out, in his own telling of his story, to live a more authentic life.
It was rather strange hearing this story because only a few days before I had been walking through fields in the blazing sunshine with an artist who had done virtually the same thing, dropped out of a stale and unsatisfying degree course to live a more stimulating and authentic life, and who is thriving on this decision and has achieved public acclaim. I found him inspirational, not least because he is so young and with a genuinely enquiring spirit. It is quite rare to meet someone who loves what they do so much. And it’s great when a person finds early affirmation of their choice, it takes real dedication and inner strength as well as faith, to stay on that path without external confirmation, purely on the basis of self-belief.
‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust that something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever, because believing that the dots will somehow connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path and that will make all the difference.’ Steve Jobs, Stanford address
I like the idea of following your intuition to connect the dots. Sometimes something happens in life, it has its own intelligence, and you only notice it as or after it has happened. Occasionally it comes as a shock to the system, a thunderbolt, but more often it’s a gradual almost unnoticed process. If you trust in that process, then it will unfold, the dots becoming visible in time.
If you follow what you love, something will come out of it, you just can’t know what in advance, and really it’s better not to try and plan it or make it happen. If you do, you’ll force and kill it, or you’ll just be wrong. Whatever happens will be the right thing. Being too planful takes away the living spirit. I once worked with someone who had not only a life plan, he also had a detailed networking plan where he contacted some people monthly, others quarterly and still others annually. It just felt too calculating and although in his terms it ‘worked’ – where was the life in it?
The day Steve Jobs died I was driving along thinking about folk music and how it has connected up over the years for me in a strange way, and I suddenly felt the dots had come together and there was a moment when it was all there as if in a single dot.
I remember as a child my father taking me to Pete Seeger concerts, as he is a great fan of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Cisco Houston, and Seeger was the closest thing although rather too honeyed a voice. I loved Joan Baez and Judy Collins, they were a little more mainstream, and then somehow I stumbled across Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles’ collection of Appalachian folk songs, songs that had come over from England and that Sharp and Karpeles had documented. As I’ve recently learned, these versions are more ‘authentic’ than the English versions, as the songs stayed as they were learned originally in the US whereas they continued to evolve and change in England. You could call both approaches a ‘living tradition’ but in different ways – neither one better than the other just different.
Loving those songs with their sometimes humourous often tragic stories and pure simple melodies, I pored over this book. But then life moved on and this all got forgotten and the book ended up in a second-hand bookstore somewhere along the way.
Then a few years ago I went to hear Oysterband for the first time and was struck by the incredible energy and connection they made with their audience. Somehow through a circuitous route which has involved unexpectedly strenuous walking between gigs, meeting some great people who have become friends, this got me back into folk music and also to hosting and organising home concerts. Hearing Sam and Hannah play in a few front rooms recently has led me to realise how much I love the intelligence of this music which is deceptively simple but which contains generations of wisdom. It is so great to see young talented musicians keeping it alive. And hearing the music in a house, as it was meant to be, with the feeling of community, the involvement of the audience (and the cake!) is a really positively affirming experience. Some of those moments when it just feels good to be alive without a need for anything more than being in the moment.
If you would like to hear the music, follow this link:
If you have faith in what stirs you and follow that feeling, something good will come out of it, and will reconnect you in a meaningful way to yourself and the world.
I think that what Steve Jobs was talking about was having faith. Following your intuition is all about having faith, going beyond rational thoughts and belief.
A wonderful definition of faith came to me, also earlier this week.
‘Belief is about hooking onto a group of ideas or thoughts and using that to protect you against experience. Faith, on the other hand, is jumping off the edge of the cliff. So yoga is a practice of observation and faith. It involves continual observation of the thoughts, of the breath, of the body, and reflecting on the results of the choices we make. And it involves faith; we have to trust the unknown and go there anyway. So it’s a very radical practice.
‘There’s rigidity when human beings cling to beliefs in the false hope that they give security and meaning to life. But yoga is quite the opposite. The more beliefs we cling to, the less connected we are to life itself. This practice is about being naked and porous and letting life soak into us, inundate us, overwhelm us almost. To me, the yogi is not withdrawn from life even if he’s in a cave or she’s in a cave. The true yogi feels life intensely and immediately and fully and is unafraid to root in the present moment. Belief keeps you from doing that, because you’re busy defending and protecting your beliefs. You cannot both be protected and open.’
Judith Hanson Lasater, ‘Practicing Radical Presence – the Art of Teaching Yoga’
Faith is being there in the moment, a connecting dot.