Block by Block publishers live Steve Jobs’ words: Don’t settle

Posted on October 06, 2011 by Janet Coats

At one point during last week’s Block by Block Community News Summit, I looked around the room at the laptops folks were using.

It was a sea of Apples.

And that’s appropriate. Apple was the computer for everybody else, the computer that made desktop publishing a reality. These Block by Block community news publishers are the journalists for everybody else. They are the ones who are inventing the future of community news.

The death of Apple’s Steve Jobs yesterday has everyone revisiting his inspiring 2005 Stanford University speech. This speech is a regular touchstone at my house, for reminding me about what is important in my life and my work and for inspiring my children in thinking about their future.

Looking at it again today, so soon after the Block by Block summit, I am able to overlay what inspires me so about Jobs’ words with the optimism I drew from these committed publishers.

In his speech, Jobs talked about the sense of failure he felt when he was forced out at Apple at age 30. But he went on to say that from what looked like failure came the opportunity for his greatest success:

“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.’’

Last year, at Block by Block, the fear of failure hung heavy in the room. This year, publishers seemed to feel the lightness of beginning, of being freed to invent their own model and their own path. As I said before, the tone has moved from one of questioning their circumstances to making the most of them.

In his speech, Jobs talked about not losing faith after he was forced out of Apple, of realizing that he still loved what he did even if he had faced disappointment:

“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.’’

This is a piece of what is happening for the Block by Block publishers, too. The work they are doing is hard – some tell them it is impossibly hard, that independent publishers can’t make a living at this work. But it seemed to me this year that, even facing that mountain, publishers are remembering that they love what they do. They are drawing on their belief that they can do great work, they can be satisfied by that work, and that their great work can satisfy the needs of others.

In his speech, Jobs talked about the need to live your own life, to listen to your own certainty:

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

And this, for me, was the biggest difference at Block by Block this year versus last year. There wasn’t much conversation this year about the threats posed by other models – AOL’s Patch or legacy media or Yahoo! or anyone else. These publishers are recognizing that worrying about those things is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

The Block by Block publishers are living Jobs’ words: They are following their heart and their intuition.

They are living their own lives.

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