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Steve Jobs Channels Carl Rogers

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More

I came across the commencement speech that Steve Jobs (a man who needs no explanation) gave at Stanford last year just today, and thought it was simple, elegant and good; definitely worth passing on as a link to others who might benefit from it. I also immediately thought of the parallels between the life lessons that Jobs tries to pass on in his short piece, and Carl Roger’s concept of Organismic Self-Valuing. I’ve written a little about this before, and plan to do so again.

These days, Carl Rogers is probably someone who does need an introduction. Dr. Rogers was one the more famous Humanistic Psychologists back in the 1950s and 60s. He is probably best known for his book "On Becoming A Person" (quotes here) and for popularizing the concept of "person-centered" or "client-centered" therapy. Roger’s idea of Organismic Self-Valuing is relatively little known but deserves to be more widely understood I think. It is basically the idea that there is a kind of wisdom built into organisms (such as human beings) which drives them towards things that are good for them if they aren’t first tripped up by various environmental demands that require them to emphasize duty over discovery. It is, in part, the idea that it is usually healthy to follow that different drummer that wants to do something interesting rather than something that merely earns money. This idea has some problems if taken in a pure form. For instance, discovering drugs is not such a good thing for most people. Really though, drugs were not the sort of things Rogers had in mind when he was developing the idea years ago; he was focused on what kept people from being happy, fulfilled people, and his answer was that they were prevented or discouraged from pursuing their dreams and real interests, which, if pursued, would bring greater happiness. Though this idea doesn’t belong to the current Zeitgeist much at all, it is an essentially correct idea I think, at least for a lot of people. Happiness is something that occurs when values and desires are in alignment with actions. But not false, dogmatic values (as Jobs points out); rather, real "organic" home-grown values.

Jobs’ speech is very simple. Three life lessons. The first about the value of following your guts and pursuing the things that you find intrinsically interesting. The second about the value of failure and the need to follow your passion, and the third, to examine your various worries, concerns and commitments against the existential backdrop of your own eventual death; the need to not waste your time on unimportant things because you have so very little of it. There is a common theme running through the essay, which reads something like "follow your heart rigorously and the rest will fall into place, even though it may not be apparent that this will occur at the time". The essence of this message is very Carl:

"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."

Of course it also helps to be very smart, charismatic, driven and (eventually) filthy rich. We’re not all Steve Jobs. We won’t all succeed either for lack of opportunity or judgment. I struggle with organismic self-valuing when I think about it, because I don’t know how to reconcile it with people who for one reason or another have bad judgment and will self-destruct if given enough rope. It seems that some people may be better off with routine lives and dogma, I suppose if it keeps them out of trouble. It’s hard to say. It’s not perfect advice, for sure, but even keeping that in mind, it is better advice than most of the crap out there.

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