Having been born to two parents that would at one point work for Microsoft, I suppose Windows is in my DNA. My house was always full of the latest and greatest from Microsoft. As I developed a love for technology, it was always products from Microsoft that quenched my thirst for the cutting edge.
You can imagine how I felt about Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad campaign, which featured PC users as dorky, incompetent losers. It was hard to not resent the company and its founder and CEO Steve Jobs for so aggressively antagonizing a company that had fueled a passion of mine. I’ll just come out and say it. I hated Apple and I hated Steve Jobs because to me, he was Apple.
Considering my opinion of Steve Jobs and Apple, one might be surprised to hear that eventually, I would eventually draw inspiration from him rivaled by only a few of the greatest people and minds of all time including the likes of Alan Turing, Nikola Tesla, or Leonardo da Vinci. So what changed my mind?
The short version is that as I learned about Apple and Jobs, I eventually was able to separate the two in my mind. Eventually I would come to terms with Apple as a company, and even grudgingly admit that they had some great products. However, my respect for Jobs came more from the way he chose to live his life than from his work at Apple.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a passion for technology. Not just the gadgets, but the history behind technology that most of us take for granted. Many of us probably have difficulty imagining a time without computers, but what Jobs did was even more difficult. In a time when there were no computers, he imagined a world with them.
Of course, he was not the only visionary at the beginning of the computer revolution. The computer revolution was full of starry-eyed children who dared to change the world. Thirty years later, most of them have names that wouldn’t sound too familiar.
Jobs however never showed fear in following his intuition and doing things his own way. He dropped out from Reed College after only a few months of attendance. He chose to stick around and audit classes that he found interesting while living on the floor of friends’ rooms. He would later describe this decision as one of the best he ever made saying, “much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”
After founding Apple in 1976, Jobs quickly found himself as one of the most influential people in technology, and one of the most important businessmen in the country. As CEO of the company, Jobs was ruthless, uncompromising, and very successful. However, after an internal power struggle, Jobs was fired by the board of directors in 1985. Not giving up on what he loved, Jobs founded another company called NeXT – which was bought by Apple in 1996. In less than a year, Jobs was CEO of his first company again and had his heart set on saving Apple from the bankruptcy they faced at the time.
The rest is fairly recent history. Microsoft invested $150 million in non-voting Apple stock, giving Apple limited financial security. Though the iMac won back confidence in (and customers for) the company, Apple wasn’t officially on fire until the iPod and iTunes would simultaneously rock digital content distribution and consumer electronics. After a string of other hits, Apple became the most valuable publically traded company in the world.
Despite his business success, Jobs struggled with his health. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, Jobs underwent numerous medical procedures. Though forced to take medical leave multiple times, Jobs remained CEO of Apple. Stepping down as CEO in August 2011, Jobs kept doing what he loved until he physically was incapable of doing so. He died less than two months later at the young age of 56.
People may mourn Jobs because of the relationship they have with the products of his company, and I wonder if that is the right reason to mourn someone. Personally, that was never what I found inspiring about him. Jobs made himself blind to everything that could make him fail. In some cases, that blindness caused his failure. However, it was that boldness and tenacity that was behind much of his success. While many people may have lived following their hearts unafraid of death and failure, few also managed to change the world in the process.
As a college student making decisions about how I will live my life, I think of Jobs when my mind second guesses my heart. I think of Jobs when faced with decisions between what is easy but unfulfilling versus what is scary but potentially amazing. The best part is, even though he is gone now, his story lives on and will never be any less inspiring.