Steve Jobs Teaches Us How To Spend Our Dash

Posted on October 11th, 2011 by Colin and is posted in Growth, Midlife

                                                                  Steve Jobs Teaches Us How To Spend Our Dash                                

“Your time is limited.

Don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

– Steve Jobs

Last week was a very sad week indeed. We all said goodbye to Steve Jobs. One of the founders of Apple, he passed away aged 56. He was the man who did more to determine which films we watch, how we listen to music, and how we work and play than just about any other person on the planet.

In the 24 hours following his death there were several pictures flying around the web, but two really stood out for me. There’s the black and white picture of Steve with his wife, Laurene, after his last keynote address and the one I’ve used for this blog post. 

So Why This Picture?

It stood out for me for two reasons: one – the picture of his famous face, the face of Apple, and two – that little, almost insignificant, dash between the two dates.

That dash represents a lifeline – just like the lifeline we are all on at the moment. We all know our first date. Mine is 1963. But none of us know what the last date will be. The passing of Steve Jobs, especially at such a young age, served as another reminder to me that life is short, and every day should be lived as if was your last.

Here is a quote taken from Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech:

 “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

The Dash

At it’s most basic the dash represents the gift of life. The gift of life is a gift of time, energy, and freedom. But nothing about simply being alive answers the next question: How shall we use our time, energy, and freedom to express the meaning of our life in the world? Put differently: What shall our being alive amount to?

Steve Jobs being alive has led to some of the most important technological advances in history. But that’s Steve… what about you?

Time Poverty

One of the greatest shortages we experience in life today is that of time. Most people suffer from what’s been labelled “time poverty.” Many of my clients find because of the pressure from work and home they don’t feel they have enough of this precious commodity to do all the things they have to do or, more importantly, want to do. They feel overworked, tired and incapable of meeting all the responsibilities they have taken on in their life. Time is a gift and with that gift comes the power of choice. How we spend each minute/hour/day of our life is our choice.

Time Management – the myth

Let’s clear something up straight away – there really is no such thing as Time Management. It’s impossible to manage time. All we can really manage is our effort, our activities, which is ultimately ourselves. Time is one way we measure progress. To get a handle on this challenge of “time poverty” we have to stop using the excuses, “if only I had the time,” or “I’ll do it when I find the time.” The reality is if we want time we have to make it.

Right now you are finding the time for all the activities you’re engaged in. The question is what activities? Is your time is filled up with work activities, commuting and other people’s priorities while the meaningful stuff gets put on the back burner?

In any given moment stop and ask yourself this powerful insightful question,

“Is what I’m currently spending time on, or who I’m spending my time with, adding to the quality of my life or taking away from it?”

Following “Smile On”              

Are you choosing to spend your time with frantic activity or on what’s important? When we spend time engaging in the things that move us closer to living out of our priorities and core values we naturally enjoy how we are spending our time.

I’ve found one of the first steps to manifesting a more meaningful existence is the ability to distinguish between “smile on” activities and all other activities. A “smile on” activity is one that gives you the greatest sense of joy, happiness and fulfilment. The feeling is deep and stays with you long after the event.

‘Smile on’ activities are specific to each individual. What’s ‘smile on’ for you could be a ‘smile off’ for someone else and vice versa. People experience ‘smile on’ about many things, here is a sample list from the audiences I’ve ask:

  • Playing with my children
  • Writing poetry
  • Visiting an art museum
  • Walk on the beach
  • Doing meaningful work that makes a difference
  • Exercising
  • Doing absolutely nothing (what a concept!)
  • Reading inspiring literature
  • Walking in nature 
  • Making love
  • Learning to play my guitar
  • Playing sport
  • Having a girlie night with my best friends
  • Cooking a new recipe
  • Helping out at my favourite charity
  • Skiing
  • Doing something wild and spontaneous
  • Yoga
  • Taking my dog for a walk
  • Teaching the children at Sunday school
  • Listening to music
  • Dancing to Salsa
  • Having a long hot soak in the tub

Our guiding purpose with the 24 hours we are all given is to manage ourselves in such away that we turn more of our time over to energising activities and get the greatest possible return of happiness and fulfilment.

Action time:

I invite you to stop the world for a moment. Sit quietly, think about that small dash and read this insightful question again: “Is what I’m currently spending time on, or who I’m spending my time with, adding to the quality of my life or taking away from it?”

Next, take out a piece of paper, or your journal, and write your full name, year of birth, and a small dash next to it. For example, mine would look like:

Colin Hiles

1963 -

Now, if you’ve read, Are You Stuck In Life’s Waiting Room you’ll know how many days that little dash represents for the average person – approximately 27,000 days. Steve never made it to the average. Pancreatic cancer took care of that!

Understand that you’re already a certain way down the dash. Look at that open-ended dash and think about what it means to you. Since you don’t know how long you’ll be here, HOW do you want to spend your precious gift called life?

Start to change HOW you are spending your time by firstly listing out all your “smile on” activities, the activities that give you the greatest sense of joy, happiness and fulfilment, and secondly, find ways to incorporate more of what’s on your list into your day to day routine. The more you do what’s ‘smile on,’ the more you’ll enjoy how you are spending your time.

That five-line quote from Steve are words to live by…. I mean to TRULY live by. I hope they inspire you as they have inspired me. Those words and their sentiment are huge part of the Follow Your Smile philosophy.

Time is a gift, be wise how you spend your dash. Have the courage to follow your smile… everything else is secondary!

Thank you Steve, you have changed our lives immeasurably. RIP

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 at 12:18 pm and is filed under Growth, Midlife. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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    Take a look at some of the responses we have had to this article.

    1. Joyce
      Oct 11th

      And here is another thoughtful observation from Steve Jobs….

      “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

    2. Karen Ames
      Oct 11th

      Colin, Wow, what a great tribute.
      I took time out to read the tribute and I am so glad I did. As I have been with you on the Smile On retreat , I am aready thinking – What am I spending my time on. The great news is I am spending time on the things that make my heart sing – life is all too short.

    3. Colin
      Oct 11th

      Nice one Karen. Glad you enjoyed the tribute to Steve and you’re living his wisdom. Smile on!

    4. Colin
      Oct 11th

      Hi Joyce, thanks for posting another one of Steve’s awesome quotes. cx

    5. Oct 11th


      A moving tribute and a great lesson. I always say to people that there is no such thing as time management, just how you choose to spend your time. And it’s so true.

      With the advnatges of technology have come many benefits but that constant connection comes at a price… and the price is that if you don’t control how you spend your time, others will.

      People who achieve great things have only the same amount of time as everyone else… and sometimes, as with Steve Jobs, less than average. It’s not how much time you have that counts but what you do with it.

      As always, great post Colin.

      Kind regards

    6. Colin
      Oct 11th

      Hola mi amigo Gavin. Thanks for your continued support and yes, time… such a precious resource and with it come much responsibility.

    7. Phil Bullock
      Oct 15th

      Lovely tribute, good message and inspirational.

    8. Colin
      Oct 15th

      Thanks for the feedback Phil.

    9. Matt
      Oct 16th

      The true big apple who´s message of acting out our own life script from one´s own authentic voice is a reminder to us all – brought to life by his own death.

      Thank you Steve, and gracias Colin for simplifying yet again, a fundamental principal on our journey towards authenticity and ultimately, inner fulfillment.

      Peace and smile on everybody, Matt

    10. Colin
      Oct 17th

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving your thoughts Matt. See you out back soon cx

    11. Oct 31st

      Thank you Colin. This is really an inspiring and focusing post.
      Most people just keep themselves busy and wander through life.
      Steve is the perfect example of someone that had a vision and a mission and was completely focused at realizing it.

      The idea of stopping whatever we are doing and dedicating time to reflect on our day (and our life) is very powerful. I always advise people do it daily as part of their “end-of-day routine”.

      The concept of the “Smile On” Activities is also so important so we can really spend our (limited) time here on the things that matter the most (to us).

      Kind Regards, Yuval

    12. Colin
      Oct 31st

      Thanks Yuval and I agree, its all to easy to get caught up in the busy trap until life gives us a wake up call. Deliberately stopping and reflecting is a great strategy to prevent ourselves falling into the trap and keep our aim on what matters most.

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