The Time I Didn’t Meet Steve Jobs

Everyone has lunch at Caffé Macs on their first day. I was no different. It was exceptionally crowded that day, with a bevy of new hires meandering aimlessly around the cafeteria, overwhelmed by the myriad possibilities for lunch. You could barely hear the person next to you over the din of friendly chatter, clattering plates, and sizzling food. The lines for anything freshly prepared were long, and I opted for a pre-boxed lunch: a caprese sandwich and fruit smoothie.

After paying came the most daunting task so far: find a place to sit. I had lost track of the friend with whom I had come to lunch, so I just stood for a moment, barely past the cash register, and surveyed a scene of chaos and scarcity. Every seat at every table, both inside and out, was filled. People with trays of food circled the floor, a ravenous look in their eyes – for a seat or their lunch, I wasn’t sure. Chairs were snatched from beneath diners while they were still standing up, and more than once a newly-opening table nearly resulted in a brawl. As I tentatively stepped out into that shark pool, my eyes suddenly landed on an open spot.

It was a small, four-person table, with four chairs around it. Amazingly, three seats were empty, with only one person sitting quietly in the eye of the hurricane while the storm raged around him. Surely this person wouldn’t mind sharing a couple seats at his table! Without hesitation, I made a beeline for the table.

As I closed the distance, I had a few moments to actually see who was at the table. He had finished lunch, and he had pushed his chair a bit to the side. His legs were crossed casually as he quietly read. He had salt-and-pepper, scraggly stubble, a balding head, and was wearing jeans and a black sweater.

I stopped so fast the sandwich nearly slid off my tray and the fruit smoothie almost tipped over. It was Steve Jobs.

Should I approach his table and ask to join him? Would he care? What if I pretended to not know who he was? Would he be impressed by the courage of a first-day hire, or would I have the shortest career in the history of the company?

I don’t know exactly how long I stood there staring, but my racing thoughts were interrupted by an incoming text message. My buddy had found a table, and had let me know where it was. I turned, and I walked away from the only chance I would ever have to meet Steve Jobs.

I keep a small list of regrets: moments and decisions in my life from which I  vow to learn a lesson and not repeat the same mistake again. The time I didn’t meet Steve Jobs is on that list.

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 — 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. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

– Steve Jobs, 1955-2011