How do you live your life? Are you just getting by paycheck-to-paycheck, or do you have a higher purpose for everything you do? To put it more succinctly, as the old adage goes, do you live to work or work to live?

Steve Jobs clearly knew where he was headed at all times, even to the point of facing death. On June 12, 2005, Jobs, then CEO and co-founder of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, delivered a commencement address for the ages.

We know the story by now. Speaking to Stanford University graduates and drawing from some of the most significant events of his life–including his being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year prior to the speech–Jobs pushed students to pursue their highest aspirations and see the opportunities when life delivers devastating blows. He said:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

How does that strike you? While we don’t know exactly where Jobs got his mortality quote, the fact that Jobs said it at a time when he stared death in the face speaks volumes to how we should live our own lives.

I’ve thought about my own life and how Jobs’s quote has inspired me to keep going in the face of many challenges, including a brutal divorce and a three-year period living in poverty. I never lost the internal compass that kept pointing me to my true north–my whole reason for living and working.

Because in the end, when you look in the mirror and assess the quality of your life, this is what will help you live each day as if it were your last.

Ask yourself the Steve Jobs question

If today was the last day of your life, would you want to do what you’re about to do today?

Here’s how you’ll know: In the frantic pursuit to do more and be more, we hardly think about the importance of focusThis is a difference maker.

That’s why, for ambitious people chasing after their dreams, another prophetic quote by Jobs over two decades ago hit the nail on the head. During an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997, Jobs remarked:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

What are you “innovating”? Whether in your current job, in leading your business, or in your life role as a parent, spouse, or community leader…what kind of guard rails have you put up to guide your course and keep you focused to the end on what truly matters in your life?

Originally published on Inc.

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