When people with an aura die, whatever that aura is – power, ego, beauty, sex, strength, skill, madness, creativity, aggression, often a mix of many of them – I feel my own life become suddenly heavier.
It’s the slow, crushing feeling of the inevitable demise that awaits all of us. That awaits me.
It happens rarely, since people with an aura are rare.
It happened last night, the night that Steve Jobs died.
Last night, at 2 am, I learned of Steve Jobs’ death from the mad flow of news and sharing activity over the internet. I slept quite badly after that, and not only because of my toddler’s restlessness. I slept with the wispy breath of death circling me, reminding me of its presence.
For the whole of today, that feeling of weight, of gravity, that shroud, has been oppressing me. The words of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech at Standford University – now risen to the status of online gospel and meme – have been floating around in my head, teasing and testing me, the knowledge of myself, the love of my work.
Like a stern but wise taskmaster, like a ronin – a masterless samurai – of his own existence, during that speech Steve Jobs presented – in the form of stories – his three core Tenets, centered on Life, Love and Death.
The purpose of this post is – apart from exorcising this dark mood – to compare my personal experience, my work, with the Three Tenets of Steve Jobs.
Are they useful for my life, for my profession? Do they work for me?
I. LIFE (“Connecting the Dots”)
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
This Tenet is about following what your instinct tells you to do, even if it sounds like a bad idea – for example, dropping from college without a backup plan – and trusting that, if you do that, the dots will eventually connect and things will work out for the best.
Does it work for me?
But I discovered games. Pen-and-paper role playing games, arcade videogames, tabletop miniature and strategy games – much to the chagrin of my mother – became the funnel of my imagination, the place where I delved with competence and mastery, where I achieved and adventured and explored the new. Unwittingly, I also learned to write creatively, to read and write and speak English intuitively, to strategize, to design worlds and maps and cities and alternative rules and tables and systems, to create living characters, to narrate, to play games in a deep way.
Almost 10 years later, my career in online games started with the crucial years at Habbo, and I rediscovered the power of games in entirely new facets – virtual worlds, MMOs, social games… With it, I fell in love with the Internet and the idea of a global connectedness.
So, almost 10 years later, I finally used all the skills that I had originally learned to escape from reality to build a profession, to create a career, to design the new.
First Tenet: Life. Check.
II. LOVE (“Keep looking for what you love”)
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. 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. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
This Tenet is about finding what you love and facing loss with a positive attitude, looking forward and not backward. Every defeat, every loss is an opportunity for learning and improving.
Does it work for me?
In 2008, after the two most successful years in my career at Habbo, I decided to leave the (for me) fabled position of Creative Director to join a Finnish/US startup and – finally, like in my teenager years – build my own world.
We brought together a talented Team from diverse backgrounds, worked manically for 18 months, used everything we knew, innovated, made mistakes, applied love and sweat and talent. And voila, Eco-Rangers - the best looking kids-oriented MMOG of its generation – was born, much to the joy of our publisher, stunned with the quality of the work. We were finally set to go live and send our child into the world.
Then came the financial crisis.
All funding from our publishers’ investors was frozen; we crunched even more, feared for our jobs, fought on, and lost. Our startup collapsed, like they sometimes do; and, worse than that, Eco-Rangers went into stasis, waiting for a new publisher or investor to take the torch and put it live.
It was horrifying. We were devastated. We had achieved a way higher quality than it was ever expected from a Flash-based MMOG. We had immersive gameplay, deep character progression, brilliant 3D characters and pets, fantastic visual design with shiny tech and vibrant nature. All of that, for naught.
In hindsight, that failure taught me much: how to set up a real Team, how to correct my own mistakes in leading professionals from different backgrounds than mine, how to design a game world from nothing, and many other things. It also taught me the limits of traditional casual MMOs, the pitfalls of standardization, the limits of Flash. It taught me to look for new ways.
I found them in social media and social games, in the integration of MMO-type ideas into social networks, into the total connectivity of modern online/social gaming.
It also taught me the value of lightness and simplicity in game and web design. And now, I think this is the kind of work I love.
Second Tenet: Love. Check.
III. DEATH (“Everyone dies, so don’t waste your time and instead create your own path”)
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
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.
This is the most important Tenet. It’s crystal clear. The fundamental one. The hardest one.
Does it work for me?
I kept on learning it trough the new work that had be done. Through building something entirely new at Crytek, a hybrid service, from scratch, together with brilliant people: an exhilarating experience. Then, I stopped learning it and started listening to other people’s thinking, to a lot of noise, until it became deafening.
Until, one day, I realized I knew what I really wanted to become.
I should have realized it a long time ago, but I trust I was not ready. One day, I’ll probably look backward and see that the dots have eventually connected. Until then, I’ll be even more hungry and more foolish.
Third Tenet: Death. Check.
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The painting displayed is: Black Square, by Kasimir Malevich, 1913
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Giuliano Cremaschi writes about the interconnected worlds of Social Media and Social Gaming, and their inextricable and ever-evolving relationship