It’s about passion, and choices, and life.

It’s been three days since we learned of Steve Jobs’s passing, and I’m surprised that I still feel bad. I’m not devastated mind you, but there is a lingering sadness, a feeling of loss that won’t go away.

I love technology. It’s a kind of magic. It makes things possible that had only been dreams. A few decades ago, computers were going to change the world. And now they have, and we feel like we were part of something important. Steve Jobs was a big part of that something. Because of his vision and obsessions, he was perhaps the biggest part of all. If many of us feel that we’ve lost someone “close”, it’s probably because he has contributed so much to that “something important” that connects us all.

But it’s not about technology

My lingering feeling of sadness comes from somewhere else. It’s even more personal than that bond we all share. What I feel is the loss of someone that had the courage to live the way I try to live every day.

When I was 18, I was in a bad accident and had to stay in a hospital for a few months. Thankfully the damage was ultimately minimal, but the experience changed me, as it would anyone I’m sure. My priorities shifted. Suddenly, only a few things mattered: passion, and choices, and life.

Life, because death is coming for all of us, maybe sooner than we expect.
Choices, because making excuses will bind you more surely than chains.
Passion, because it is the only thing that should matter, everything else is secondary.

So I decided that I would live my life following one rule. Every time I’m faced with a really important decision, I ask myself: If I don’t do it, will I regret it when I’m 70?
If the answer is yes, then I have to do it. I just have to, no excuses. There are always reasons not to do something. But if you know in your heart that decades from now you’ll look back and regret not acting, reasons and excuses don’t matter.

When I turned 25, I had to make a decision.

I had studied computer science for a couple of years, and hated it. I completed the two year course, but instead of entering a lucrative computer engineer career, I went on to study Japanese. It had no hope of practical application, but it was such a breath of fresh air. Such an interesting field, with new friends and new things and ideas and views of the world I never knew existed. I loved it, I was alive.
After four years, I realized that to really know Japan, I had to live there. It was crazy:
I was 25, it was time to settle down, get a job, plan for the future… This was the first time I really asked myself the question: “if I don’t do it, will I regret it when I’m 70?”
My answer was: if not now, when? If I do get a job, a family maybe, I’ll never do it. And when I’m 70 and my grandchildren come to visit, I won’t be able to tell them about the cool crazy adventure I lived, and I’ll be sorry I didn’t do it. So I found a way to go.

I spent four years there. They were some of the richest and most transformative years of my life, and I cherish them more than I can say. But by the end, I had had my fill. And surely, now I should settle down… Probably, but I didn’t. In Japan, ripped away from everything I knew, I slowly discovered that I didn’t have to be a “scientific type”.
I discovered that for all the love I bore computers and bits, everyone has a bit of art in their soul. Mine was filled with moving images. I loved cinema so much, I had to be part of it. Again, I asked myself the question. I wasn’t 20 anymore, and starting something different would have been a bit crazy.
But I didn’t think of it that way. I wasn’t “almost 30”, I was just someone who had something important in their heart. You can guess what the answer was.

So I came back to France, and found a way to get into the movie industry. I worked on movies, TV shows, ads… A couple of years into it, I discovered there were production companies dedicated to Japanese clients. They became my safety net in that difficult field. When there was no work elsewhere, I could often count on them.
I didn’t always eat as much as I wanted, but I loved my life. Full of surprises, and travels, and new experiences, and hard work. And funny stories I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren. And it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t decided to study Japanese all those years ago. Looking back, I could connect the dots.

I could go on, but I’ll save it for a boring tale of “my life to this point” when I turn 40.
For now, here’s what I know:

  • No one can be happy every day of their life, but you should be happy most days.
  • You should be thankful for what you have, not spiteful for what you don’t.
  • If the job is tame but you’re alive three nights a week when you’re dancing, then it’s ok.
  • If you work hard to provide for the family that is your joy every night, then it’s ok.
  • But if you get up in the morning and see no passion in your life for too many days in a row, you should do something about it.

That is the philosophy I constructed for myself over the years. It started with my dad, who showed me you shouldn’t ever settle, and continued with the traumatic event that made me aware of my mortality. I’m trying to explain this clumsily, but someone else has said all of this so much better than I ever could. In 2005, Steve Jobs gave that famous Commencement Address at Standford University. When I first saw it, I almost cried. He was speaking to my soul and my heart, with words that I wished I could have put together. That day, Steve Jobs told the world what I had felt for years.

And it wasn’t about technology. It was about passion, and choices, and life.
If you’ve never seen it, I urge you, I beg of you, please watch it now. And if you find it speaks to you, please act on it. Today. Not tomorrow, not next year. Start hatching a plan to live your life right now. Start searching for a way to live your passions. Not tomorrow, today. Because if you put it off, life will pass you by, one day at a time.

I admired the CEO and the visionary more than I can say. But I think it is that Steve Jobs that I’m grieving for. The guy whose ideas on life resonated so much with mine.


October 8th, 2011