RIP, Steve

The world has suffered a huge loss today. Not because he was famous, or rich, or any of those externalities. But because he was a game-changer. Steve Jobs set out to change the world, and he did just that. In ways big and small, he did just that.

Not only did he bring to the general public some of the most useful products of my generation (iPhone, iPod, etc), he encouraged a nation of people to be better. At whatever they do. He gave commencement addresses that inspired me, and I’ve never been in his audience. Speaking at Stanford to the class of 2005, he said:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

And don’t sit still — he wasn’t a fan of resting on one’s laurels (and if anyone could have rested, it would be him). But that shows just how special he was, that he wasn’t satisfied with having done enough, he wanted to do more. On the news one night in May 2006 he said, “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

Sadly, there is no “what’s next” for Jobs, but his legacy will live on.

To say that he was a visionary seems trite, insufficient, but it’s true. I love that he knew what the public wanted, in terms of Apple products, so well but wasn’t cocky or full of self-importance. This quote in BusinessWeek in May 1998 sums it up: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” True, so true. If someone had described the iPhone to me before I had one in my hand, I wouldn’t have gotten it.

I’m not a gadget-y person. I don’t like stopping long enough to learn how to use something but prefer to dive in and figure it out as I go about my busy day. I’m not a reader of manuals, but that’s the beauty of the Apple products, and of Jobs’s insight into product design: you don’t have to figure it out because the device figures it out for you. Jobs truly understood how to show us what we want and need, without it being about him, about Apple, about financial success. He seemed to really care about doing great things. Way back in 1993, when I was a newlywed without a cell phone, an iPod, or an iPad, Jobs told the Wall Street Journal: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

My most favorite thing about Steve Jobs was his attitude toward the innovators all around us. You don’t have to be CEO of one of the most successful companies in the world to be an innovator and affect change in your life, and Jobs spread that message far and wide. I happen to live with a 9-year-old who follows the Jobs model. While I admit I’ve often thought if she were more like other little girls, it sure would make my life easier, but that’s short-sighted and temporary. Yes, buying a Disney Princess costume would be much easier than figuring out how to bring Domo to life, but that’s not her. And I’m glad.  Just like it’s not her to choose a “normal” job to research and present to her class in a career day speech. While the other kids see themselves becoming nurses, MLB players, dancers, and electrical engineers, my little innovator chose the lead singer for KISS.  In all seriousness. It never even occurred to her that this is wacky or unusual or “out there” because that’s how she rolls. She wasn’t looking for giggles or shock value; in fact, she probably wouldn’t care if others thought it weird or unusual or shocking that she wants to be the lead singer for KISS. She can’t sing, but that doesn’t stop her from thinking this way. It was hard to keep a straight face as she practiced her speech in her jammies the night before delivering it, as I marveled at her “outside of the box” self.

I think Steve Jobs would have approved. I think he and my girl would have liked each other. I can see them hanging out, talking about crazy stuff like a tiny device that can hold all your music, so you can listen anywhere as you do whatever you want. Like a home computer with a processor half the size of a shoebox but with plenty of computing power. Like a computer application that allows you to make and edit home movies good enough to be shown on the big screen. Like a fully functioning personal computer you can carry in your pocket. Like a Japanese anime character costume that weighed 20 pounds, was covered in industrial-strength carpet, and induced heat strokes in small trick-or-treaters but was so kick-ass, so rockin that it inspired people to hand out extra candy, to give a big handful of the good stuff as a means of awarding extra credit for creativity.

Sadly, my girl will never meet Steve Jobs. Not because he’s rich & famous and we’re ordinary people. Not because he lives all the way across the country. But because he’s dead. Because cancer stole him from us at age 56. I’m so sick of cancer. I’m sick of it in my own life and those of my friends in the blogosphere. I’m sick of it in the lives of the rich & famous whose deaths from it become magnified on TV, on the Web, and in magazines. I’m sick of it in my own family, where it stole my sweet mama and two of my favorite aunts (happy birthday, Thea Sophia; you may be gone but I still remember October 6th. Miss you).

And Steve Jobs, I miss you too. Thanks for changing my world, and for making it ok for people like my little girl to be different. May she follow your lead and change the world in her own way. I will share your quote about the crazy ones with her as she grows up and (hopefully) remains a square peg. RIP, Steve.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”