My English student is a graphic designer and once showed me how she uses that Apple gizmo to make these amazing professional advertisements. This is the lady who’s my age, studied artistic dance in university, and is a most creative student in the way she describes a word she wants to use but doesn’t know. She loves all things Apple. From her, I first heard about Steve Jobs, and afterwards, promptly found his famous Stanford commencement address, and liked it. Liked it very much, really.
I especially liked how he showed how demotions and perceived failures can actually turn out to be good. They can even benefit you sometimes. Such as when he was fired from Apple which pushed him to start Pixar Animation Studios.
Last week I was meandering down the street, licking my last ice cream cone of the season, celebrating the sunshine and my free afternoon. I wheeled around when I heard my name shouted behind me–something that pretty much never happens here–, and it was my graphic designer student! I’d not seen her since early summer, since she had a baby last month, and I’d been missing her, and I shouted her name and hugged her delightedly.
We walked across the street to her parked car to admire her baby and touch his cheeks, and talk about how her life has changed since his birth. Standing in the sun, licking a cone, talking with a student/friend, I somehow felt incredibly rich.
The next day, Steve Jobs died. Not that the two events are connected, but for me, these two people are connected in my mind: Steve Jobs and my student.
In that Stanford speech, Mr. Jobs talked about how one choice affects a million things later. Maybe that’s why one of the most useful prayers for anyone is for wisdom for them to make good choices. And maybe that’s part of the fun we’ll have when we’re old and can see how the dots in our stories connect to make something meaningful and beautiful. God did say it would all fit into a good pattern, didn’t He?
I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. –Steve Jobs