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Steve Jobs, American Icon


(photo credit)

The outpouring of tributes to Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and creative genius behind the iPod-iPhone-iPad empire, reveals the central role of technology in modern society.  The Apple logo became the dominant symbol of advanced, elegant technological wizardry, eclipsing even the venerable Windows icon in the public’s imagination.

Jobs’ untimely death at age 56 from pancreatic cancer, while long anticipated, leaves a considerable void in the current pantheon of great inventors and entrepreneurs.  In an age fraught with scandals, political and social divisions, Jobs stood out as a true American Icon, someone who could translate innovative vision into commercial products that filled needs that consumers did not know they had until they saw, held and stroked those beautiful, sleek machines.  Few companies have enjoyed such rapid public adoption of their products as Apple; the rapid embrace of the iPad was the crowning achievement of the company and its founder.

Steve Jobs was so important to our culture that the news of his death blew away all other news yesterday and this morning, including the announcement of the non-news item that Sarah Palin will not run for president. Next to the towering accomplishments of Steve Jobs, most of today’s newsmakers seem like midgets.  However, for all of his accomplishments, that also brought power, fame and wealth, Steve Jobs never sought celebrity, making him an even greater exemplar for these confused times in which celebrity alone is too often equated with something important.

I read a lot of biographies of great leaders — Manchester on Churchill, Korda on Lawrence of Arabia, Chernow on George Washington.  One of the defining characteristics of the greatest leaders across time is their ability to work through defeats and setbacks, to rise from the ashes of monumental failures to be even stronger at a later moment of challenge.

Steve Jobs knew his share of defeats and setbacks, including dropping out of college, getting fired from Apple in 1985 when sales slumped (he was rehired in 1997), and battling cancer at the peak of his career.  Watch his commencement speech at Stanford University to learn more about this leader’s winning philosophy of life.

“Do what you believe is great work,” he said, “and love what you do.”  He described getting fired from Apple at age 30 as the best thing that ever happened to him, since it made him discern what he really loved to do.  “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon helped me to make the big choices in life,” he also said, “Remember that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”  Live each day as the best day possible.

What a legacy he leaves, this great American Icon.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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