Sarah Sands: It pays to live this day as if it were your last

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The Independent Online

Within a few days of Steve Jobs's death, a book of his inspirational sayings is being rushed into print. It is to be called I, Steve, rather than the "Book of Jobs". It is said that CEOs of countless companies now arrive in the office and ask themselves: "What would Steve do?" Well, the guru status of Jobs has spread well beyond the corporate. We are all invited to live by his teachings. David Cameron must wish he had delayed his conference speech a day, so that he could have pepped it up with Jobisms.

"Have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition," would have lifted it. I share the general enthusiasm for nice-looking computers. I am writing this on a Mac. I sort of understand my husband's unique rage when the rest of us leave a trail of sticky fingers on the keyboard. If Jobs says that "Computers are the most incredible invention that has ever been invented" I will defer, although I would like to mention the aeroplane, the telescope, the light bulb, the telephone or penicillin.

Steve Jobs talked of a "Beatles" business model, and suggested that leadership was improved by youthful dropping of acid. This culturally dates him as a late baby boomer. No wonder Richard Branson rushed into print to claim Jobs as a personal hero.

We get the formula: remain anti-establishment, even if your company is worth more than the US government. Say that money does not matter. Wear jeans. Unveil rather than manufacture. Preach rather than sell. Walk on water. And if you get it right, you will be treated like Gandhi, rather than a superb salesman.

The wisdom of Jobs that I have heard most often repeated is his supercharged version of carpe diem. He said that he learnt to look at himself in the mirror and remind himself daily: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" This has a posthumous potency. We clearly see the arc of destiny. Jobs was a visionary with no time to waste, because his remarkable life was to end prematurely. He was not Keats, but he had much still to offer.

And we can see how tempting it is for all of us to abandon uneventful moderate lives in search of dreams, before it is too late. Why eke out the quiet desperation when you can be extraordinary? Why go to the supermarket? This is where all the trouble begins. Steve Jobs toasts the "crazy misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes". It is true that entrepreneurs and inventors are often by nature disruptive and maverick. Breakthroughs can happen only by challenging conventional thought. But if everybody packed it in to follow their dreams, society would collapse. There is a contrasting philosophical thread to Jobs in J M Barrie's teaching that "life is a long lesson in humility".

Repression and disappointment gave us the brilliance of Philip Larkin. How could you not love Larkin's melancholy answer to Jobs's whooping it up, "Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three ( Which was rather late for me)... "?

In fact, Larkin and Jobs come to the same conclusion about posterity, but Larkin puts it more poignantly. After a life of emotional compromise and career underachievement as a provincial academic, he wrote: "... to prove/Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love." I love the "almost", but do not feel it would have been tolerated by Jobs.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'