Okay, so I’m a little late to the party. But last night I watched the movie Steve Jobs, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s dramatic biopic of the tech genius’ life—or, more accurately, of the state of his life during three major product launches.
And the movie—based on the same-name biography by Walter Isaacson—depicts Jobs as a pretty miserable guy. Someone who struggled to ever feel worthy or loved. Someone who struggled to share an emotional connection with anyone. An obsessive perfectionist who would ream out anyone who dare not be perfect. A man hurting from his early wounds of being put up for adoption. And, most poignantly, a man obsessed with changing the world with his technology—bordering on an almost god complex.
Now, as I type this on my MacBook Air, only inches from my iPhone 6s, there’s no question that this was a brilliant man who made at least some of his desired effect on the world. And I’m certainly not one to judge another person’s life—especially someone else’s interpretation of his life.
But the movie really made me consider one idea that is both remarkably subtle and powerfully shifting at the same time—the difference between ‘having to do’ something and ‘wanting to do’ something.
From the standpoint of the movie, Jobs was compelled to be successful. He didn’t have a choice. Because any less than true success—getting back to Apple, turning the company around, making his mark on the world—meant that he didn’t matter. That he wasn’t lovable. That the world couldn’t love him as he was. It could only love him as something more.
It’s not that wanting to change the world or make a big splash is inherently wrong. In fact, I spend all of my days getting to work with people who are doing it. But there’s a big difference between a person knowing that they are whole, complete, and loved—not needing anything more—and then choosing from an empowered place to want to share work with the world because it would just be fun. If it doesn’t work out, that sucks, but whatever. We’re still just as powerful and whole and complete as ever.
Because it’s a choice. It’s a want. Like a relationship. I see many relationships out there that are out of convenience or loneliness or self-esteem-boosting or money or attention or control or sharing a child. And there’s no judgment at all. But there’s a big difference between one where people feel they ‘have to’ be together, they depend on each other, they need each other—and then relationships where people just feel whole and complete and choose each other because it’s fun and loving and the life they want.
To be honest, it breaks me heart. To see people driving themselves to insane degrees to feel worthy. And, ultimately, it’s selfish. It never has the exact altruistic energy we intend for it. Because there’s always a part of ourselves so attached. Grasping at it. Begging it. Pulling it back for ourselves. We’re not really doing it for the world. We’re doing it for ourselves more than anything. We need it to build us up. We need to know that it’s not just channeling through us—it is us. We’re smart. We’re genius. We’re brilliant.
It’s more about the validation than it is about truly changing the world. And that lack of humility often leaves us empty inside—regardless of how “big” we get.
And the distinction is subtle, right? It’s so easy to deceive ourselves. And we’re the only ones who will ever know if we’re doing it because we want to or because we feel like we have to.
Are we doing the dishes because we want to? Or because we feel like we should, given that our partner makes more money so we should do more around the house?
Are we putting out that offering because it feels so good? Or because we’re trying to prove to the world how much we matter? Or maybe even because we’re desperate for money and don’t have any other choices?
Are we in our relationship because our partners builds up our self-esteem? Or because we are a whole person who chooses to be in a relationship with this other whole person?
It’s not so easy to identify. And we can very easily trick ourselves. But the difference between ‘choosing to’ and ‘having to’ is really the difference between empowerment and disempowerment. And we can never truly empower the world from a disempowered place. We can never see our true divinity unless we accept our own empowerment.
So it starts with us. Right now. Not achieving and creating and succeeding. But looking at ourselves. Loving ourselves. Knowing that we matter. That we’re worth it. That we can let go of our shame. That our past does not define us. That we get to decide how much we matter in the world. That we truly are divine. And that we can be infinite.
And the more that we step into that space, the more we can trust ourselves. To know that we don’t need anything. We don’t need our beautiful house or fancy clothes or wonderful job or even loving relationship. We don’t Need it with a capital N. But we can sure as hell choose it. Because it feels amazing and wonderful and makes us happy. And life is just a bit sweeter with it all.
And that subtle difference right there—well, that just might change your life. Because now you’re empowered.
And empowered people truly change the world.