Tuesday 11 October 2011

Follow your heart and nothing else will matter

Perhaps the strangest advice I have read in the last week was the recommendation that lonely single people should acquire a dog to attract the opposite sex.

I can tell you from bitter experience that this does not work, partly because dogs really do take on the personalities of their owners. The low point for me, some years ago now, was walking in the hills above Alwinton on a gloriously sunny summer morning, and observing the approach of a vision of loveliness in shorts. She was accompanied by a bouncing collie.

As we drew closer I could see that the young lady was smiling broadly at me, or perhaps at my ever-so-cute Border terrier. Clearly a potentially life-changing conversation was on the cards. But it never took place because, at the critical moment, Arthur the Border terrier adopted his usual course with strange dogs and bit a lump out of her companion.

We passed in an awkward silence broken only by my well-worn attempt at an apology, as Arthur gave me his traditional “Sorry, Dad,” look, which I knew meant that he was not sorry at all.

The late Arthur in benign repose

But at least the “get a dog” advice acknowledges in the small print that it may not bring you the love of your life, but it does guarantee that you will be less lonely. Because you will have a dog.

The address to Stanford University graduates by Steve Jobs, much quoted after his death last week, contained great advice on the matter of work. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.”

The important sub-text to which is that your work will almost certainly never bring you the sort of fame and wealth enjoyed by Steve Jobs. But that won’t matter. Because at least you will be filling your days doing something that you love.

For me, the other particularly striking feature of Jobs’ address was the remarkable chutzpah he displayed in standing before a class of eager young graduates and reminding them that they would all soon be dead.

It is perfectly true, of course. The best lesson that the old can pass on to the young is that it only seemed like yesterday when they were similarly full of youthful promise. I can remember my parents trying to teach it to me. But like youngsters through the ages I ignored them, because I believed I had all the time in the world.

Very few of us have the great gift of being entirely original thinkers, able to conjure up products that no one has the slightest idea that they want until they appear on the market, then realise that they absolutely must have. Such inventiveness has been the great contribution to the world of Apple Inc.

The late Steve Jobs

Who knows what more life-enhancing gadgetry would have come our way if Jobs had lived. Though my own principal regret is that we shall never hear him further develop his intriguing line from that Stanford address: “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.”

As he pointed out, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there.” But as my late next-door neighbour was fond of saying, in only slightly more colourful language, “No beggar gets out of this one alive.”

It is a shame that Apple have not yet beautifully packaged the inevitable as a must-have iDeath that we could all covet. Until they do, the best advice surely comes from Horace in what the BBC would have us describe as BCE: “Carpe diem”. Seize the day and follow your heart.

So if you’re lonely as you read this, maybe you should crack on and buy that dog. Or possibly try advertising a vacancy for a wife on your business website. That was my one original idea so far, and it certainly worked for me far better than the irascible Border terrier ever did.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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