Career Success Lessons from Steve Jobs’ Life

Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday.  The world is better for him having been in it, and little worse off now that he is no longer with us.

When I think of Steve Jobs, I am always reminded of my favorite quote from my favorite playwright, George Bernard Shaw…

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Steve Jobs personified this quote.   He was a force of nature, and sadly, he seemed to be pretty worn out at the end.  He saw things in a different way from most people.  An iPod is nothing but a hard drive and set of headphones, but it revolutionized the way we listen to music.  The iStore revolutionized the way we buy music.

This isn’t an ad for Apple products.  They speak for themselves.

But Steve Jobs’ life has some great career success lessons for all of us.

Steve Jobs was confidence personified.  And self confidence is an important key to your life and career success.  Tweet 56 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Self confidence must come from within.  Outside reinforcement and strokes can help, but you have to build your own confidence.”  Steve Jobs did just that.

“I’m not confident, what do I need to do to become more confident?”  I get asked this question a lot.  Here is how I respond…

Self-confidence is an inside job.  Self-confident people are optimistic.  Self-confident people face their fears and act.  Self-confident people surround themselves with positive people.  If you want to build your self-confidence, focus on becoming an optimist, facing your fears and surrounding yourself with positive people.  Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.


Max Moore says optimism is “the fuel of heroes, the enemy of despair, the creator of the future”.  Optimism is the opposite of pessimism, which Denis Boyle says is “as magnetic as any black hole, swallowing one good day after another until there are no good days left”.  Read that sentence again.  It’s great career advice for becoming more self-confident – avoid the black hole of pessimism.

In a very interesting article in the March/April 2007 edition of AARP, The Magazine (yes, I’m old enough to be a member), Mr. Boyle makes some great points about optimism and pessimism:

“The essential truth about optimism: the opportunities for it are everywhere.  They just get ignored… Pessimism though, is the default state of our psyche, and the easy way out.  We tell ourselves there is nothing we can do because life sucks, black holes abound, Murphy’s Law rules.  Meanwhile, optimism takes effort.  Despites tons of information provided by zealous pessimists, optimists believe everything will turn out fine.  They are able to do something no pessimist can: they do their part to make sure tomorrow will be better than today.  To subscribe to optimism means that you have a role in shaping your own future.  Why is this important?  Because it’s how stuff gets done.  No successful individual could conduct business with a set of pessimistic assumptions… Work, progress, great ideas, all are fueled by optimism.”

I agree.  I am an optimist.  I admit that in these days of economic uncertainty and crazy partisan politics it can be difficult being optimistic, but I choose to be relentlessly optimistic.  I believe every day is going to be a good day – and set about making it so.  I believe I will succeed in every project I undertake.  This optimism fuels my self-confidence, and my self-confidence drives my performance and my career success.  I never met him, but I bet Steve Jobs was a bigger optimist than me.

Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a course in Positive Psychology at Harvard.  He had 800 students in his course last year.  He offers the following three tips for becoming more optimistic:

  1. Give yourself permission to be human – don’t beat up yourself about mistakes.
  2. Express gratitude often.
  3. Engage in activities that give your life pleasure as well as meaning.


Fear is the enemy of self-confidence and career success.  It’s also very normal.  We’re all afraid sometimes.  Usually it’s a fear of failure.  Fear can be debilitating, paralyzing us into inaction.  Over the years, I’ve found how to face up to my fears and to conquer them.  Indecision, procrastination and inaction feed fear.  Action cures it.

Here are my four easy steps for dealing with fear…

  1. Identify what you fear.
  2. Admit that you fear it.
  3. Accept that you fear it.
  4. Take action to deal with what you fear.

Positive People

Surround yourself with positive people – people who are both positive by nature, and positive about their life and career success. Positive people are optimistic – and as I’ve discussed above, optimism is the first step in building self-confidence.

Positive people help you feel good about yourself, because they feel good about themselves and life in general.  Positive people are there when you begin to doubt yourself.  They help you build your self-esteem because they have a strong sense of self-esteem.  People with a strong sense of self-esteem are not threatened by others.  They realize that self-esteem is not a fixed pie.  There is an unlimited amount of it to go around.  Therefore, you can build your self-confidence just by being around upbeat, positive people.

Identifying and building relationships with mentors is another way to build your self confidence.  Wikipedia defines a mentor as “a trusted friend, advisor, counselor or teacher; usually a more experienced person… Today mentors provide their expertise to less experienced individuals in order to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks.”

Mentors are positive people by definition.  You cannot be willing to lend your wisdom and expertise to another person without being hopeful about that person and his or her future.

I have had several mentors over my career: Bert Phillips, Maggie Watson, Dick Pelton, Bill Rankin, Howard Sohn, were all trusted friends and advisors at one time or another in my career.  I believe that mentoring is so powerful that, as I turn 61, I am working with a great mentor, 20 years my junior. JT O’Donnell is helping me turn the intellectual property that I have developed over the past 35 years into products that can be sold on line.

Mentors challenge you to do better.  That’s why they are so important in building self-confidence.  As they challenge you, they are also telling you that “you can do it”.  Having someone who believes in you – like a mentor – is one of the best ways I know to build self-confidence and your life and career success.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  We all lost a good friend this week, Steve Jobs.  I began this post with a quote from George Bernard Shaw that applies to Steve Jobs.  I’d like to finish with another one.  “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  Steve Jobs was an unreasonable man – that’s why he is iconic, and the world is a better place for him having been in it.  He believed in himself and his ideas.   He was incredibly self confident.  All successful people are self-confident.  They understand and apply the career advice in Tweet 56 in Success Tweets.  “Self-confidence must come from within.  Outside reinforcement and strokes can help, but you have to build your own confidence.”  You can build your self-confidence by becoming an optimist, facing your fears and acting and surrounding yourself with positive people.  Self-confidence is an inside job.  You have to create it yourself.  But once you do, you’ll find that it’s an upward spiral.  Your confidence will inspire you to take on challenges.  Your success in dealing with these challenges will help you become more confident – which in turn, will allow you to take on and meet even greater challenges.  Just look at Steve Jobs and what he created at Apple.

That’s the career advice I found in the sad news about Steve Jobs’ passing.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you.  I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first contains 140 bits of career success advice, all in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb.  You can find out about the membership site and get the career advice in I Want YOU… for free by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.


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  1. These are absolutely some of the most wonderful tips one can use to achieve professional success. Thanks for sharing these lessons from the life of Steve Jobs, the great tech visionary.


  2. Thanks James.
    The world is a little less bright now that Steve Jobs is no longer with us.
    I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this post.
    Have a great weekend.

  3. @jay_rombach says:

    Hello Bud,

    A good post. Thank you.

    Like you, as one who studies the lessons of success, I agree that it seems to always boil down to self confidence. There are countless opinions of what it takes to be successful, and probably all contain some truth. That said, without the core foundation of self confidence, I’ve never seen someone truly become a winner in any lasting endeavor…even if they appear to have “all that it takes.”

    I appreciate that you pointed to Steve Jobs as a reminder to all of us about self confidence. The products will change, but the core foundation of success will not.

    Thank you,


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