Connecting the Dots of Life – A message to our graduates

I was reading an article in the paper the other day, about the difficulties and anxieties high school students have in determining the path their futures should take. The article missed a significant factor however. It mentioned nothing about the parents’ anxiety in trying to help their children make the decision. As parents, we can also experience anxiety because we sense a God-given responsibility to “train up a child in the way they should go“, and we often can’t discern which specific way is for them. We want to help our children into their life calling, but honestly, most of us don’t exactly know how to do it. The options are so numerous: Do we set them on the educational treadmill and send them to college? If so, how do we help them determine what field to major in? Or instead, do we encourage them to develop manual trade skills, or become business entrepreneurs and be self -employed? There is also the option of full-time service on the mission field, or serving people full-time in the Church, but even then, one has to determine what skills would be most needed on the mission field? There are so many options and how does one know, for sure, which path our children are to walk down?

Here’s a suggestion that may bring a calm and peace into the situation. Draw from your own life experience and explain to your children how you came to do what you are doing in life. No, I’m serious! You can also look at the poor decisions you made that didn’t work out very well, and explain what you’d rather have done. Unfortunately, for most of us, we can’t find a formula for success for them to follow, and that’s the point. There really isn’t a formula to follow. The reality is that most of us are doing some form of work that we had not planned to do. At some point in our lives an opportunity came our way and we took it, or fell into it. For many of us, it wasn’t even in the field we were trained in and yet we have a peace that God led us to the point we are at. If that’s not clear, then here’s a word picture that can help you sense the leading of God in your life, which can give your children peace in the midst of these decisions.

I remember when I was a little child and I came upon my first connect the dots game. All I could see were little dots on a sheet of paper and I was told that if I would draw lines between the numbered dots, in the right order, I would be able to see a hidden picture. So I drew lines connecting the dots and voila! I suddenly saw a picture of a little animal that seemed to have come out of nowhere! I was amazed that I could now see something I couldn’t see before. Connecting the dots brought order out of confusion and revealed the purpose for the random dots and that was exciting for a 5 year-old boy.

Today, I find that I am still am connecting the dots of life. I look back on my life and see various events, that at the time didn’t seem to have any significance, and yet in retrospect, I could see that they led to other major events happening that would not have happened otherwise. I began to see that God has been directing my life all along. Looking backwards and connecting the dots, we can see that God uses three types of dots, or events in our lives that make us into the people we are. There are: I) Injurious Dots, II) Impulsive Dots, and III) Insignificant Dots.

I) Injurious Dots:
Going through distressing events is painful. They injure and hurt us. They are inconvenient, bothersome, irritating and sometimes overwhelming, and life is full of such events that bring us sorrow and discomfort. We sometimes question how a loving God would allow us to go through such suffering and pain. Eventually, if we use these circumstances to us draw nigh unto God, we will begin to see that good things can come out of bad events. I once heard a sermon entitled, Good and Evil Run On Parallel Tracks and Arrive In The Station At The Same Time. It said, out of some of the worst circumstances we go through, some unexpected and good things come into our lives. They bless our lives. Sometimes these are things are so precious that even if we had the power to change those painful circumstances, if it meant we would have to give up blessings, we wouldn’t use the power. Looking back on the events, we see now, that we didn’t have to be so distraught at the time. By connecting the dots we can see that we could have rested in the Lord and had faith, peace and even joy, knowing that God was going to eventually bring something good to come out of the ashes of despair and pain. Looking back we see that the injurious events were necessary ingredients in making us into the people God wanted us to be. We wouldn’t have suffered so much anxiety and turmoil if we had known then how it would turn out.

2) Intuitive (Impulsive) Dots:
There are times in our lives when it is good to be impractical. Sometimes God’s Spirit moves us to do something that doesn’t make any common sense. Common sense is common to all people. We need to have supernatural sense and follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit. People may not understand why we do some things and think we’re impulsive. We may not understand why we do some things, yet sense an intuitive prompting. It takes a lot of courage and faith to do the unconventional. This may be pursuing a dream God gave you, or being prompted to do something radically different with your life. There is a lot of pressure put on us to seek comfort and conform to do what everybody else is doing. Sometimes God works in very unconventional ways to direct us on towards the path of our life calling. Looking back on these events in your life, you begin to see that God used them to bring you into new experiences and blessings. When God prompts us to walk through an open door of opportunity, it takes a lot of courage and faith to get out of our comfort zone and follow that prompting, yet when we look back and connect the dots, we see these intuitive experiences are integral to our calling .

3) Insignificant Dots:
Another one of those dots that bring meaning into our lives are what we thought were insignificant events. At the time, the decision seemed like such a trivial and ordinary thing. Yet, when we look back, we discover that it was a serendipity and a major turning point in our lives that we weren’t conscious of it at the time.

As you begin to look back on your own life, look for these three types of experiences and begin connecting the dots. It will be illuminating to you and so helpful to your children.

The following is an example of connecting the dots of life by Steve Jobs, (CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios). In his address to the graduates at the Commencement Ceremony of Stanford University on June 12, 2005, he simply connected some the dots of his life to the graduates. His speech will be in italics and I will insert the headings of this outline and comments into his speech in normal type.

Watch Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech – “Connecting The Dots”

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

(I. Injurious Dot)
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him? They said: Of course. My biological mother then found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life.

(II. Intuitive/ Impulsive Dot)
So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

(III. Insignificant Dot)
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.

If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

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 ó your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

(Comment: Notice how Steve trusts that there was something directing his life through these events, but he sadly doesn’t know who, or what it is. We’ll also see that these injurious, intuitive and insignificant events are cyclical in his life, as he continues his story)

My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation ó the Macintosh ó a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out.

When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me ó I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

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… 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.

(Comment: Isn’t it remarkable that Steve tells the students to keep the faith, but is not able to tell them who they are to have faith in? He describes himself as a “patient” but is unaware who the Doctor is that is prescribing these events in his life. He concludes with this story…)

My third story is about death. When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right. It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been No for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

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 ó 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. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

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. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma ó 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.

Comment: Amazing speech isn’t it? He knows there is something directing his life, but he doesn’t know who He is. Perhaps, now you know how Paul felt when he said to the people on Mar’s Hill, who worshipped the Unknown God, Him I declare unto you!

History lesson: In 600 BC the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus first called this “Unknown God” the “Logos”. He said the Logos is the Creator who has a rational plan and reason for creating the world, and a purpose for creating each individual. He is the one who set all things in order and is directing life towards a specific end. Heraclitus knew He was there, he just didn’t know who He was, or how to come in contact with Him. The word Logos comes from the Greek word lego which means to connect. The Logos connects the rational mind of God with the mind of man, so man can know God’s ways and the purpose of life and connect the dots of life. Heraclitus could not make the connection. It remained a mystery to him, yet he knew there must be a Logos ñ he just could not reason himself to discover it. On a large scale, the Logos has interacted with mankind since the dawn of time and has intervened throughout history directing life on earth towards its ultimate destination; i.e. the return of Christ to earth in the last act of the Drama of the Redemption of Mankind.

At a certain point in history, about 2000 years ago, this Logos (translated into English as the “Word“) became flesh and dwelt among us. The Apostle John boldly exclaims that Jesus Christ is the Logos. He came unto his own and His own received him not, but as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the son’s of God; even to them who believe on His name. That means if we receive Him and become born into the spiritual dimension, we can interact with the Logos, Who created us, and Who can reveal the purpose for the random dots of our lives. We can then connect those dots and we will see that the image being drawn is the image of Christ Himself.

This is the message of Christmas; that God came to earth and was made in the image of man. Mankind had such a lack of love that we pushed Him away and we killed Him. He conquered death and came back to life and is alive even now. He knocks on the door of our hearts and wants to enter. If we let Him in, we will then interact with Him (as God did with Adam in the Garden) and He will mold our lives back into the image of God. If you haven’t yet, will you surrender to Him so you will be able to look back and connect the dots of your life? Only then can you look ahead with confidence, faith and trust knowing that a loving and compassionate God will continue to supernaturally direct your life. Only then will you get to the end of your life you can look back and say like Paul, “I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.” I have connected the dots of my life, and I can see Christ!

– Bob

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