I enjoyed and recommend Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio. The overarching question it has left me with is what’s the best way to assess whether one’s living or lived a good life? And how best to define “good life”? Specifically, do professional successes trump the personal or vice versa? Do you most want to be remembered as an amazing chief executive, lawyer, teacher, trooper, counselor, sales manager, engineer, doc, pastor, carpenter, nurse, or as a caring and loving father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, neighbor, friend, citizen?
Everyone answers those questions somewhat differently in the way they live their lives. Jobs’s professional activities—he reinvented six separate industries—were clearly more important to him than his personal roles and identities—he was self absorbed, he was a distant father to his three daughters, and he rarely cared about anyone else’s feelings.
We seem to excuse people like Jobs—people at the very top of their field—for being what some readers of the book have described as a “self absorbed asshole”. Why is that? Is it because people at the very top of their fields tend to be extremely wealthy? Do we give the ultra rich a pass on being shitty parents or people?
Most of the time I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished throughout my thirty year teaching career, but in my own personal calculus of assessing whether I’m living a good life, I emphasize the personal. It’s most important to me that I be a good husband, father, friend. I can’t help but wonder though is that because I haven’t accomplished more professionally? Is my personal orientation an excuse for not being more ambitious and not working harder? Or do I emphasize the personal because I’m overcompensating for my dad’s explicit “professional accomplishment” orientation?
Jobs didn’t have the ideal balance, but I’m not sure I do either. More questions than answers.