“There is no genius without a dose of madness,” Aristotle says.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish,” said Steve Jobs, embodying the Faustian art of staying alive.
Who among us doesn’t recall Steve Jobs’ words, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”? Whether you love or hate it, this phrase serves as a milestone, a familiar mantra for a life without alternatives. To me, “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is more than a quote—it’s a way of life without alternatives. Every artist understands it, and hearing it from someone who founded a business empire and revolutionized the computing world is not just motivational but comforting. Being hungry and foolish blends Aristotle’s aphorism, “there is no genius without a dose of madness,” with the full-time job of staying alive—a concept with a touch of the Faustian.
In Goethe’s Faust, Faust makes a bet with Mephistopheles:
Faust: If ever I lie, appeased, on a bed of idleness, is, for me, right over! If you, the illusion falsely with me, so that I may take pleasure, if you seduce me with pleasures, what is the last day for me! This bet is on me!
Mephistopheles: I accept!
Faust: And here’s a handshake! If I say to the moment, “stopped, you’re so beautiful,” then you can throw me in chains, then I’ll go willingly into disrepair. Then the bell could sound the death knell, then you will be released from your service. It stops the clock, drops the needle, and is finished for me, my time.
The wager between Faust and Mephistopheles is based on a deep understanding of the human soul and the illusion of satisfaction. Faust knows that nothing can quench the soul, and the human soul’s yearning brings a dissatisfaction that nothing can quench—a thirst that never finds true refreshment. Faust, with his pact, commits himself to remain alive.
This bet, I find, is the other side of the coin of Steve Jobs’ phrase and Aristotle’s aphorism. While not all are geniuses, all can engage in the work of staying alive and hungry. How? My question is how can you avoid it? I have never found anything that brought such satisfaction to unpack and say, “Here, I am here to stay.” Even when life is stable, and the house is finally in place since the last move, as the first gust of wind passes, I feel the urge to wake up, stretch the soul—it’s time to start again. Life calls me, and I don’t want to sit down. The temptation of stability, the convenience of what I have, is never stronger than the North Wind calling me to pack my bags. New adventures await me. I know that if I ever find a moment so nice to say stop, it would be like Faust, my order:
“Stay hungry, stay foolish” …