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The Missing Ingredients in the Recipe for Success

If I asked you what it means to be successful, a picture may come to your mind’s eye. Maybe Steve Jobs in a black, mock turtleneck, his thumb pressed gently to his bearded chin.

He is revered. People study him and dress like him. We talk about his genius, his single-minded commitment to his vision, and his ability to bring it to life by marshaling the talents and toil of thousands of people around the world.

Yet here are the words of his daughter Lisa in her memoir Small Fry: “He’s disconnected from himself. He doesn’t know his own heart because he lost it.” 

Steve Jobs denied that he was Lisa’s father, and he maintained that position for years even after a paternity test proved otherwise. Despite his extreme wealth, he refused to provide financial support for her until he was held legally responsible by the court system.

If we broadened our definition of success, would Steve Jobs still be a model of what it means to live a successful life? Would we exalt someone who failed so spectacularly at the most basic and primal of human tasks: showing love for his own child?

Being disconnected from his heart wasn’t an asset in his role as a father, but it likely contributed to his relentless and unforgiving leadership style. Some have posited that it was that leadership style that helped him bring his vision to life–a device that changed the world.

The iPhone put the power of the internet in our pockets. Now we can quickly get directions, buy products, play music, and text and instant message people we aren’t with, but because we have those capabilities, we look at our phones more than the world around us. We think less and Google more. We do less imagining and watch more YouTube videos. As we grow more dependent on our phones, we become less connected to others and to ourselves.

Jean M. Twenge explored this in her article in The AtlanticHave Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” She studied a cohort she labeled “iGen” (born between 1995 and 2012) who didn’t know much of life before the advent of the smartphone. In her words, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

Steve Jobs fulfilled his vision by launching products like the iPhone and iPad, and he achieved astronomical wealth thanks to them. The cost to the rest of us is that we now suffer a bit from what ailed him. 

I can’t help but wonder how the world may be different if we adopted a more comprehensive view of success. What if we gained the knowledge earlier that comes organically towards the end of our lives? That’s when what’s really important comes into focus. It’s when we realize that what truly matters is not whether others view us as a success, but whether we have lived a successful life based on our own values.

When Kirk Douglas was 102, he wrote an essay to share ten life lessons. Here is an excerpt: “I started out as a poor boy and ended up a very rich man. I guess that is what most people consider successful. But to me, I became a success when I was able to give my money away to worthwhile causes.” 

After wisdom accrues, we know that love, kindness, and generosity are the ingredients that make a successful life. If these were our metrics of success—over salaries and second homes—what choices might we make today?

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