I wrote awhile back how the death of Steve Jobs affected me. This is kind of an update on how things have progressed since then.
Now, I don’t consider myself in the same league as Steve Jobs. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of the titans of our industry and their force of intellect has been humbling.
Capability aside, certain types of people are motivated by very similar things. We all have our demons.
In my case, I grew up with very little. I never felt I was good enough. It was just my mom and I in an apartment for much of my childhood. Insecurity was my motivator and “success” was the score card I used to keep those demons at bay.
My first money-making effort was started when I was 6. I made money by taking out the garbage to the dumpster for the neighbors in our apartment building. I saved nearly every penny. Delayed gratification was something I was pretty good at. When I got to be a teenager, I earned money helping clean mechanized shovels used for sewer repair (I won’t go into any more detail than that). The money I made with that let me buy my first car, a Chevette which let me get a job further away at the mall selling books. That in turn, got me enough experience to get a job as a proof machine operator at the bank during the Summer when I went to college at Western Michigan University (which I went to because I got a scholarship because of my ACT scores).
In college, for reasons I still can’t fathom, my professors asked me to teach lab classes and sub lecture classes despite my 2.x GPA. When I wasn’t doing that, I was working at Babbages (now owned by Gamestop). I still didn’t have enough money to pay for school so I started my own company making custom PCs called…Stardock.
After I graduated, I ended up focusing on Stardock as it was hard to find my “dream job” because of my 2.x GPA and let’s face it, a small state college doesn’t open a lot of doors. I will admit that I get a pang of…I dunno, envy and personal failure when I see someone who went on to make it big after a stint at Harvard. Having mentors and connections can really make the path easier – or at least, so I’ve heard.
But that’s why I have tended to look to Steve Jobs as a role model. He didn’t have the resources to go to a Harvard, make the connections, build networking skills and seamlessly magnify his inherent talent to reach the pinnacle of success.
Steve Jobs built his success the hard way.
Steve Jobs at 40
The hard way, however, includes some sacrifices. Some terrible, sacrifices that in the bigger scheme of things makes one wonder if they’re worth it. Missing out on your kids growing up. But more specific to this particular path, it means building skills and knowledge at the cost of heart breaking personal failures.
And in the end what was it for? Steve Jobs, the CEO of the world’s most successful company was still, ultimately, unable to save his own life. No matter how successful you are, life isn’t just short, its length is often beyond your control.
Steve Jobs, at 50 (only 10 years later)
I didn’t know Steve Jobs personally. He was an inspiration from afar. His death made me reevaluate my life goals. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some level of success. Certainly not billions like Steve Jobs but certainly far more than I could ever realistically need. Like I said, Steve Jobs was beyond me in every measurable respect (talent, capability, and level of success).
I know from talking to others that I’m not the only one who used money as purely a score card. At some point after I graduated I had my own score card net worth goals. $1M at 25, $10M at 30. $100M at 40. $1B at 50. But they might as well be just points in an arcade game. The money is largely meaningless since most hyper-driven people never spend even a fraction of what they amass.
I probably would have continued on this trajectory if I hadn’t gotten the wake up call. Two years ago at this time, my typical schedule was 84 hours a week. That’s 10 hours a day, 6 days a week plus one all-nighter (Wednesdays). During crunch times, I’d do 15 hours a day, 5 days a week plus 2 all-nighters. I wish I could come up with some excuse for this other than I enjoyed doing it. It’s no different than the MMO player who’s trying to power-level their character as fast as they can. Last year I turned 40, so I thought I had “at least” another 40 years, minimum.
But the death of Jobs’ broke me out of that line of thinking.
Now, I’m working 40 hours a week. Well, maybe a bit more but I haven’t done a single all-nighter since Jobs died. It’s very weird having all this…time. I’m getting to know my kids. I’m hanging out with my wife a lot more. I’m getting more involved in hobbies and we’re about to start a charitable foundation this year. It’s a different life.
That’s not to say that I’m retiring. Far from it. But my life has changed. I’ve been granted a reprieve. Life is short. And as has become clear, no matter how successful you are, you have little say over just how short that life is. It doesn’t change my hero-worship of the visionary aspects and drive of Jobs. Instead, I would like to think I’m looking at his inspiration from a new, broader, perspective than I had before.