On Friday, following a busy week of new product announcements for the biggest company in the world, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook delivered the commencement address at MIT’s graduation ceremony. Like his predecessor Steve Jobs, Cook described personal challenges that led him to the worldview he holds today.
"I tried meditation. I sought guidance and religion. I read great philosophers and authors. In a moment of youthful indiscretion, I might even have experimented with a Windows PC. And obviously that didn't work."
He described how working with Steve Jobs at Apple awoke within him a personal mission:
"It was in that moment, after 15 years of searching, that something clicked. I finally felt aligned with a company that brought together challenging, cutting edge work with a higher purpose. Aligned with a leader who believed that technology which didn't exist yet could reinvent tomorrow's world. Aligned with myself and my own deep need to serve something greater. Of course, at that moment I don't know all of that. I was just grateful to have a psychological burden lifted. But with the help of hindsight, my breakthrough makes more sense. I was never going to find my purpose working some place without a clear sense of purpose of its own. Steve and Apple freed me to throw myself into the work and embrace their mission and make it my own. How can I serve humanity? This is life's biggest and most important question."
Cook, like Jobs before him, knows entrepreneurship, innovation, and business all exist only by serving others valuably.
Maybe you’re pondering similar questions as Cook. What is my purpose? How can I serve humanity well? How do I or will I know I’m doing a good job at it?
As Cook says, “Measure your impact on humanity not in lights, but on the lives you touch. Not in popularity, but in the people you serve.”
Apple’s multibillion-dollar business is serving billions of others through high-technology. Perhaps yours could be too. Or perhaps it is in a different sector–arts, music, science, education, coding, fashion, food, among thousands of other possibilities. Humanity has infinite needs crying to be served. You can be among those who help them be met.
It all comes down to this: We all need to learn to love what we do. That’s not to say that every minute, every day, must be a delight. There is, after all, what economists call “disutility” to any work. But we should seek out ways to make our work matter more to our lives than merely getting a check to pay the bills. We should also seek to make the world a better place. Contrary to what we are often told, it is not politics that achieves this, at least not often; rather, it is the social service that is made possible in the commercial sector of life.
As a bonus, I’ve included below Steve Jobs’s commencement address in 2005 at Stanford University, one of my absolute favorites.