“There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs
“There are no rules.” – Steve Izenour

sipping teaTea is a companion drink, a beverage we usually enjoy along with doing something else – reading, writing, doing a crossword puzzle, knitting, watching TV, and so on. Rarely do we make a cup of tea and just sit and reflect on the tea itself. When we do, it can be a battle to stay focused on the tea – thoughts come and go in our “monkey minds,” distracting us from staying in the moment.

Often these thoughts are easily dismissed, while other times they seem to have been waiting for just such a quiet tea moment to capture our attention and linger on. Sometimes they aren’t what they first seem to be. The first thought may only be a marker trying to lead us down a path of several more touch points.

Recently, during one such quiet tea moment, I was relaxing after a productive afternoon, enjoying a cup of Sencha green tea. It was then that I heard that Steve Jobs had died. Naturally, this news brought on feelings of sadness and empathetic thoughts for his loved ones, yet the emotions stayed with me longer than I anticipated and the loss felt stronger and out of proportion to any connection I had with Steve Jobs, Apple, or their products. I’ve never been an Apple apostle enraptured by all things Steve; in fact, I’ve never owned an Apple computer and until recently I didn’t own an iPhone. Yet I’ve always been aware of Steve Jobs, admired his design-centered sensibilities, the elegant simplicity of Apple products, and his unique, focused approach to running the company his way.

Any sense of loss certainly wasn’t personal; it was more of an awareness of the loss of a creative spirit. Steve Jobs is no longer out there running Apple, but undoubtedly, he has inspired many people to have the creative license to try a unique approach in their field of interest, even if to others it may seem unconventional, foolhardy, or too big of a risk. Gone at age 56, what would he have been able to do had he lived 10, 15, 20 more years?

Impermanence. I sipped my tea, noticed the changing flavor notes as it rolled across my tongue, and stared into the cup. Slowly, other mental markers appeared along the path and took me back to another Steve – Steve Izenour, an architect and a teacher, who died 10 years ago at age 61, also unexpectedly. I was a student in one of the last major design projects he was working on in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was well known in architecture circles, having co-authored one of the influential books on modern architecture and popular culture in 1972. He was also one of the most giving persons I have ever met.

While both Steves were passionate about design and, in their own contexts, about making the world a better place, their approaches were different. If Steve Jobs, as reported, was sometimes demanding, a caustic critic, and a bit controlling, Steve Izenour was more of an open whirlwind of possibilities and exploration. Take your idea, rework it again and again and again, throw the idea up against the wall like a bowl of pasta 49 times, and when it sticks on the 50th time – that’s the one! It was a messy process at times. Yet through each incarnation of the idea, there was always enthusiasm and if there was criticism, it consisted of poking and prodding to get the idea on the right path. How it got there was up to you. I’m not sure if the two Steves could have co-existed in the same design studio unless they recognized the similarities of their passions, even if their processes were polar opposites.

The cup of tea had lost its warmth; the nuances in the tea were disappearing. At the time Steve Izenour passed away in 2001, we hadn’t seen each other in three years. I was traveling outside the country, unaware of his death. Shortly after returning from the trip, September 11 happened and the world changed. I’m not sure his spirited approach to life was meant for this world we live in now post-9/11. How strange after all these years to reconnect with that loss? Yet, this is the nature of tea. There is something about it that helps shift our point of view, inspire us, and transport our thoughts, sometimes in ways that surprise us. Time to refill the cup.