Death. It’s pretty much the most important thing in life. It’s important because it’s always looming as the only thing that’s absolutely certain. Everything else is a total crapshoot.

Indeed, death is as much a part of life as breathing. No breathing, know death.

Yet, we somehow keep moving along in life despite this terrible thing at the end. And most of us move along pretty happily. Then someone dies and we’re reminded that we’re just borrowing time. That we’re mortal.

Last night Steve Jobs died. Even though he was sick for a while, it seemed to take everyone by surprise and caused a ripple effect of good karma across the internet. Jobs died of a form of cancer.  My grandmother had cancer. I’d bet most of us know someone who has it, had it, or died from it.  At its essence, cancer is an extremely efficient malicious code that replicates itself. And we’ve never been able to figure out how to stop it–even though it seems like we’ve been trying my whole life. Sure, we’ve made progress, but the fact that we’ve not been able to crack the code makes me wonder whether we are even supposed to. And so cancer is scary because it has the potential to accelerate the end of life. But cancer’s not alone. Every time we step foot out our front door we dance around death.

What fascinates me about all this is how we somehow make it from day-to-day knowing that this life we lead is not going to end well. That eventually we come face-to-face with the great dark room.  But somehow, we do. We climb over the fence between fear and faith and play in the places reserved for those who are in denial about the great and inevitable end to all of this. We do because death is but a distant bell. We’re programmed to avoid being constantly consumed by fear. And yet fear is everywhere. From asking the girl to the dance, to your first driving test. And from the performance review at work, to worrying whether a mad gunman will open fire at your kid’s school, fear swirls around us in many forms. But we get through it. In fact, looking back over a lifetime, we often point to personal triumphs over fear as significant moments that shaped us as human beings.

One thing you can say about Steve Jobs is that he wasn’t afraid to take chances. Despite the risks, he pushed fear aside to explore things way on the other side of the fence–out where few of us ever dare to wander. And no doubt he was the kind of leader who instilled this kind of fearlessness in the culture at his company. It’s funny to hear people speculate as to whether Apple will survive without Jobs. Of course it will. And it’s because of this idea of fearlessness. Will there ever be another Jobs? No. Will the design of their products be as elegant and useful as they were when Jobs was alive? We can only hope. But no doubt his dedication to innovative thinking will continue to drive the people he survived.

Think Different is more than just a a powerful advertising tagline. It is a mantra for breaking from the status quo to walk farther away from the fence that separates fear from faith.

In a 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Jobs said, “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.” What Jobs is talking about here is faith. Faith is hard because it requires facing fear and walking past it. Do what you love. Follow your heart. Be brave. These are more than just cliches for life coaches, they’re the absolute blueprints to living a full life. And they’re not easy. Fear always stands in the way of us doing the kinds of things that matter most.

There’s scientific proof that cancer thrives in weak environments. If fear kills hope, then the opposite must also be true.

With death hovering above us as the only thing we know for certain that will happen, each of us pushes fear aside to walk through life every day.

The difference between living the kind of life that makes a difference in the world is how far away from the fence we’re willing to walk.

Fuck fear. Walk as far as you can from the fence.


Jim Mitchem

The iPhone Priority
Splitting Hairs

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.