Do What You Love: Was Steve Jobs Wrong?

During a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs essentially told graduates, "Do what you love." Even before I saw that quote, I've always believed in those words. In some ways, I've lived by them. But a column (penned by Rabbi Marc Gellman) is making me take a hard look at Steve Jobs' philosophy -- and its potential negative impact on those who follow it (including me).

Jobs delivered his now-famous commencement speech in 2005 -- after he had been diagnosed with cancer. At the time, it sounded like his prognosis and outlook were good. Jobs told Stanford's Class of 2005:

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."

Jobs was absolutely right. I've lived by that type of thinking ever since I entered the job market back in 1992 or so.

Or Was He Wrong?

Then, a few days ago, I stumbled across a column in Newsday (Long Island's top daily newspaper) that made me rethink Jobs' words and my own focus on life-work balance.

The God Squad column, penned by Rabbi Marc Gellman, is not yet online (and Newsday's content is largely behind a paid firewall, anyway). But Rabbi Gellman's message went something like this:

While Steve Jobs was telling everyone to "Do what you love," he was standing upon the shoulders of low-paid factory employees, many of whom were working in terrible conditions in Asia. It wasn't brave for Jobs to say, "Do what you love." In fact, in some ways "Doing what you love" is a completely selfish act. Far braver are those who are selfless -- and give back through volunteering. There's no big financial reward. Instead, you volunteer because it's the right thing to do.

Life-Work Balance, Revisited

And so, I'm back to contemplating how I spend my own time each day. When Amy Katz and I launched After Nines Inc. in September 2014, we proclaimed that we'll remain fantastic consulting partners to our clientele -- even as we establish a life-work balance that puts our respective families front-and-center for our remaining days.

In the back of my mind, I've always been wondering... What's the next step in life-work balance? If I was going to give my time to a worthy cause, what would it be? Rabbi Gellman's column triggered that thought process again.

I still think it's great to, "Do what you love," But maybe my top priority should instead be to, "Do what needs to be done" -- at home, in my community, and more.

Adopting the Bill Gates Approach?

Poke around the web and you'll see a growing thesis that goes something like this:

  • Roughly 100 years from now, Steve Jobs' name will be a small footnote in history -- some guy who made some neat stuff that looks downright ancient by now.
  • But then there's Bill Gates, a philanthropist who changed the world by focusing on some of the most pressing global challenges of his time. Somewhere in that biography, there will be a footnote mentioning that Gates made his money from software, before focusing on far more important global challenges.

Regardless of what the history books ultimately say, I'm still a Steve Jobs fan and a Bill Gates fan. I'm a tech fan. And ultimately, I hope I can connect the dots between (A) "Do what you love" and (B) "Do what needs to be done."