Despite a years-long battle with cancer fought in the glare of the public eye, despite the grim sense of foreboding arising from his indefinite medical leave of absence last January, despite his chillingly gaunt figure and frail voice in rare public appearances in ensuing months, despite his resignation as CEO in August, the death of Steve Jobs on Wednesday at age 56 came suddenly, even cruelly.
Everyone expected it, yet it was as if the world was unprepared for it. Jobs was a larger-than-life figure, the most successful technology visionary of our time. With the possible exception of Bill Gates, no one is more closely associated with the company they founded and built than was Jobs with Apple.
His early success with Apple's personal computers was legendary, but the legend shifted into hyperdrive in 2007, when the company unveiled the iPhone, a revolutionary personal mobile device that, along with the iPad, transformed Apple from a spectacularly profitable company to the most valuable tech company in the world.
There are many other articles on ITworld and elsewhere that can provide readers with the timeline and details of Jobs's life, his accomplishments at Apple, his impact on modern technology and culture. All of that is important and worth noting in detail, especially now.
To me, however, what made Jobs a memorable figure, someone to emulate and learn from, wasn't his wealth, his company's financial performance, or even his genius at creating personal devices that triggered an almost cult-like devotion.
It was his philosophy of life, one formed -- or perhaps solidified -- after his first brush with cancer in 2004. He expressed this philosophy a year later while delivering a commencement speech at Stanford University. Here's what Jobs said, as reported by Reuters:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
"Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
"There is no reason not to follow your heart." Those words of hard-won wisdom have more value in them than Apple's market capitalization or the pleasure people derive from their iPhones, iPads and Macs.
I hope Steve knew in his final days that his greatest legacy was not the company he built, or the technology products he gave to the world, but rather the example he set by seizing his own life, his fleeting existence on Earth, and living it with courage, humility and grace.
"There is no reason not to follow your heart." Jobs didn't merely say those words. He embodied them. And that is what made Steve Jobs a great success in life, and beyond.