When I was toiling in the corporate vineyards at Goodrich–and like most people–being committed to the job to a fault and often to the exclusion of family, vacations, weekends and so on, I received some good advice from an associate. He told me that few people on their deathbeds ever said: “Gee. I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
I wonder if that holds true for Steve Jobs and many others like him? Jobs will be remembered–and rightly so–as an innovator, design and marketing genius, and brilliant business executive. And the well-deserved tributes that have come from people all over the world following his death this week are inspiring.
But here’s a story that I find a little sad. It’s in the NYT this morning, “With Time Running Short, Jobs Managed His Farewells“:
Over the last few months, a steady stream of visitors to Palo Alto, Calif., called an old friend’s home number and asked if he was well enough to entertain visitors, perhaps for the last time.
In February, Steven P. Jobs had learned that, after years of fighting cancer, his time was becoming shorter. He quietly told a few acquaintances, and they, in turn, whispered to others. And so a pilgrimage began.
The calls trickled in at first. Just a few, then dozens, and in recent weeks, a nearly endless stream of people who wanted a few moments to say goodbye, according to people close to Mr. Jobs. Most were intercepted by his wife, Laurene. She would apologetically explain that he was too tired to receive many visitors. In his final weeks, he became so weak that it was hard for him to walk up the stairs of his own home anymore, she confided to one caller.
Some asked if they might try again tomorrow.
Sorry, she replied. He had only so much energy for farewells. The man who valued his privacy almost as much as his ability to leave his mark on the world had decided whom he most needed to see before he left.
Mr. Jobs spent his final weeks — as he had spent most of his life — in tight control of his choices. He invited a close friend, the physician Dean Ornish, a preventive health advocate, to join him for sushi at one of his favorite restaurants, Jin Sho in Palo Alto. He said goodbye to longtime colleagues including the venture capitalist John Doerr, the Apple board member Bill Campbell and the Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger. He offered Apple’s executives advice on unveiling the iPhone 4S, which occurred on Tuesday. He spoke to his biographer, Walter Isaacson. He started a new drug regime, and told some friends that there was reason for hope.
But, mostly, he spent time with his wife and children — who will now oversee a fortune of at least $6.5 billion, and, in addition to their grief, take on responsibility for tending to the legacy of someone who was as much a symbol as a man.
“Steve made choices,” Dr. Ornish said. “I once asked him if he was glad that he had kids, and he said, ‘It’s 10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done.’ ”
“But for Steve, it was all about living life on his own terms and not wasting a moment with things he didn’t think were important. He was aware that his time on earth was limited. He wanted control of what he did with the choices that were left.”
In his final months, Mr. Jobs’s home — a large and comfortable but relatively modest brick house in a residential neighborhood — was surrounded by security guards. His driveway’s gate was flanked by two black S.U.V.’s.
On Thursday, as online eulogies multiplied and the walls of Apple stores in Taiwan, New York, Shanghai and Frankfurt were papered with hand-drawn cards, the S.U.V.’s were removed and the sidewalk at his home became a garland of bouquets, candles and a pile of apples, each with one bite carefully removed.
“Everyone always wanted a piece of Steve,” said one acquaintance who, in Mr. Jobs’s final weeks, was rebuffed when he sought an opportunity to say goodbye. “He created all these layers to protect himself from the fan boys and other peoples’ expectations and the distractions that have destroyed so many other companies.
“But once you’re gone, you belong to the world.”
Mr. Jobs’s biographer, Mr. Isaacson, whose book will be published in two weeks, asked him why so private a man had consented to the questions of someone writing a book. “I wanted my kids to know me,” Mr. Jobs replied, Mr. Isaacson wrote Thursday in an essay on Time.com. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”
“I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”
I don’t know. For a man who really did change the world, that statement strikes me as being more than a little sad.