A chance to blaze in the sky

The Steve Jobs Archive last week released a book, Make Something Wonderful, that is a collection of the late Apple founder’s writings, speeches, and interviews. There’s a free e-book version, but the web version is especially engaging and beautifully designed.

It turns out Jobs had a habit of sending emails to himself to collect and iterate on his thoughts. The string of emails he sent to himself fleshing out his iconic 2005 Stanford commencement speech is remarkable. His first ideas for the speech were scattershot and mostly uninspiring bits of typical commencement address life advice. But the progression of ideas in his emails to himself starts sharpening over time into the three simple, poignant stories that ended up in the speech.

Seeing this inside peek into his process is a nice reminder to just get my ideas down, even if they’re not very good. Crappy first drafts are the norm—required even. Those first, possibly embarrassingly bad, ideas are the necessary foundation for the potentially good ideas that will never come without having laid out the bad ones first. Stick with it. Mull over it. Keep going. Keep tinkering and polishing.

The obvious delight Jobs had in making “something wonderful” shines throughout this collection of his words. I’m wired that way, too. When I am on a mission to make something wonderful myself, I can get lost in a thrilling sense of absorption. Well, the effort isn’t continually thrilling for me. Dead ends and clunkers and uncertainty often stymie me. But I have to resist letting the frustration of coming up short of my standards derail me. Keep at it, man. The real reward is the path and the process—the making of the thing even more than the thing itself. Hopefully, ultimately, I’ll also have the satisfaction of making something wonderful I’m delighted to give to the world.

There’s this lovely line in the introduction to Make Something Wonderful delivered by Jobs to a group of students:

“You appear, have a chance to blaze in the sky, then you disappear.”

I have appeared, through no effort of my own. Disappearing is inevitable. Taking the “chance to blaze in the sky”… that is the challenge.

Make something wonderful with your life while you can.