Conformity Isn’t a Recipe for Excellence: Wisdom from George Carlin & Steve Jobs (NSFW)

During the 1960s, George Carlin had something of an epiphany. Confronted by the counterculture, the young comedian realized that he wasn’t staying true to himself — that he was trying to be Danny Kaye, a very mainstream star, when he was really an outlaw and a rebel at heart. (Watch him on The Tonight Show in 1966). Eventually, Carlin learned “not to give a shit,” to break with milquetoast conventions that restrained other comedians, and that’s when his comic genius bloomed. Note that some of Carlin’s comments here are … not surprisingly … not safe for work.

Steve Jobs, another child of the counterculture, didn’t learn Carlin’s lesson over time. As Walter Isaacson makes clear in his new biography, Jobs understood from the beginning that excellence is rarely achieved by walking down the path of conformity. In a 1995 interview, Jobs boiled down his basic approach to life. The mastermind behind the legendary Think Different television campaign (watch the version narrated by Jobs himself) said:

When you grow up, you tend to get told the world is the way it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

You can find more pearls of wisdom from Jobs over at BrainPickings, and we’ll leave you below with more cultural figures meditating on life:

Stephen Fry: What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18

Paulo Coelho: Success Never Happens Without Taking Risks

One of the Biggest Risks is Being Too Cautious…

Bono Tells Graduates “Pick a Fight, Get in It” (2004)

Conan O’Brien: Through Disappointment You Can Gain Clarity

J.K. Rowling Tells Harvard Graduates What They Need to Know



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  1. Isaac says . . . | December 6, 2011 / 9:21 am

    I think you are mixing up between success and excellence. Moreover, being a rebellion is not taking drugs, stealing and vandalizing!

  2. Gopal Iyer says . . . | December 10, 2011 / 8:04 pm

    Steve Jobs is a unique individual who changed the way we think about anything. His inventions touch the life of so many people around the world. That is his legacy

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