So much has been written about Steve Jobs in the past week that I considered keeping my thoughts to myself. At least until I picked up the latest issue of Time Magazine, which features a 1982 photo of Jobs on the cover holding the type of Mac on which I first learned to use a computer.
But nostalgia is not what motivated me to write this post. Not entirely, anyway.
Most people, I think, know that Jobs didn’t finish college. Most people also wave this fact off as, ‘well, he was different’. And of course he was, but maybe not so different as we would like to believe. Maybe, like the company he created, he was just ahead of his time and figured out early on that a degree wouldn’t get him where he was destined to go.
This is what an article in Time, written by Lev Grossman and Harry McCracken, had to say about Jobs: “Steve Jobs remade the world as completely as any single human being ever has, but he had no business doing it. He wasn’t qualified. He wasn’t a computer scientist. He had no training as a hardware engineer or an industrial designer. He had a semester at Reed College and a stint at an ashram in India. Jobs’ expertise was less in computers than it was in the humans who used them… He’d spent one unhappy semester at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and 18 happy months of ‘dropping in’ on Reed classes as he saw fit. [italics here are mine] He audited a calligraphy class, which shows in the gorgeous fonts of every Apple product he ever shipped.”
So no degree (and no student loan debt to go with it), no particular indication that he was a prodigy, and time on an ashram. As you can tell by my italics I love the part about his 18 happy months spent dropping in on classes as he saw fit. As soon as he stopped being an official college student and became a free person who dropped in on classes when they interested him he went from miserable to happy. And, oh yeah, he founded Apple Computers.
I’m not suggesting that everyone who forgoes college or drops out to spend time on an ashram in India will become another Steve Jobs; what I am suggesting is that the formula for success is not necessarily found by way of a college degree (and indeed if you are of a mind to create your own computer company, it seems anathema, if Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and Bill Gates are any indication).
I write this blog on a MacBook, have an iPod, shop on iTunes. I enjoy my Mac computer and Apple gadgets, but what I enjoy most is why they exist. If Jobs had dutifully gotten that degree and remained miserable, our world would be very different today. Instead he followed his passion and did more, it could be argued, than anyone ever has in the space of one short (and shortened) lifetime.
Even if you don’t create a revolutionary computer company; even if you don’t change the entire world, by following your passion there is a good chance you will change your own. So thank you Steve Jobs, for showing us that the path of our choosing is infinitely better than one chosen for us.