Welcome to what some are describing as the very last year ever. Not that we’re all going to die, I am told, just that according to the Mayans—or the Aztecs or the people at Burger King or wherever—time will cease to exist this year, and therefore the word “year” will become meaningless. Why the hell not?
So, as long as we’ve still got time, let’s talk about how we can use it. I just finished the longish biography of the shortish life of Steve Jobs. I read it on my kindle for iPhone, which I carry everywhere in my purse, giving me access to hundreds of books anytime I find myself waiting in line or stuck in an airport. It was an odd experience of cognitive dissonance; I’d read about how Jobs refused to bathe, threw tantrums and objects, and stabbed friends in the back, and think, “What a jerk!” Then I would highlight a particularly striking passage, and think, “Oh, my gosh! When I touch the screen a little magnifying glass appears! This is the coolest thing!” And, of course, my iPhone would not exist if Steve Jobs had not done what he did. Computers would still belong mostly to hackers who would sit in their garages designing inelegant machines for other techno-geeks.
One theme in Jobs’ life was what his associates called his “reality distortion field.” Jobs would demand that his engineers create impossible gadgets and designs. There were actually signs posted in the Apple offices saying, “Beware the reality distortion field.” Yet, when they were face-to-face with Jobs, even staring right at such a sign, people tended to forget their own limitations and believe that they could do what Jobs said they could. This begs the question, what was the real reality distortion at work? The fact is that most of the “impossible” things Jobs demanded were actually produced, though their creators had to work feverishly to create them. In other words, the reality all along was that they had this capability. Their conviction that they could not do extraordinary things was actually the distortion of reality. It made me feel much more forgiving of Steve Jobs eccentricities. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to know something was possible and that your friends could do it, and to have every one of them denying the reality you knew?
So as the year begins, I’ve been thinking about my own reality distortion fields. Where is my mind attached to ideas of limitation that are in fact distorted version of reality? What wonderful devices or innovations could I create if I surrendered my preconceptions? I’ve found that within me, as within Steve Jobs, there is a sort of psychological pioneer. It wants to see wonderful things happen in the world and it assumes that my job is to make them happen. I don’t think I’m at Steve Jobs’ level by any means, but that lunatic fringe part of my consciousness behaves a bit like him. When I’m trying to master a new technology on my computer, or find a way to get through to a client who is truly locked in a destructive worldview, or find a way to help rehabilitate Earth’s ecosystems, I reach the emotional level of a two year old. I feel petulant, teary, and seized by a combination of intense desire and stubbornly persistent fear.
I suspect we all have this pioneer archetype within us, pushing us to achieve things we know for certain to be “impossible.” We tend to stay away from that portion of our awareness for the same reason many people steered clear of Steve Jobs. (What a jerk! What distortion of reality!) But as I look around me at the change that Jobs created in the world, I have come to believe that I must befriend this delusional whiny pioneer within me. My task is to access that part of myself without the loss of compassion or patience that interfered with Steve Jobs’ personal relationships. Can I go to the furthest limits of my imagination and figure out where my supposed limitations are actually distortions of reality? Can I hang on long enough to the “impossible dream” to see it become real? I’m not sure. But as my resolution of this last of all possible years, I am determined to try.
So what about you? Can you find the Steve Jobs aspect of yourself? Can you “distort” your reality by believing against all odds that you can do something spectacular? Try entering your reality distortion field long enough to achieve the impossible. Believe that one human being can transform everything. Work your heart out in the service of your most optimistic imagination and then go one step beyond even the genius of Steve Jobs by continuing to bathe regularly.