Thursday, October 6, 2011

Do you want to sell colored water, or do you want to change the world?

I didn't know Steve Jobs, obviously. And if I had known him, chances are we wouldn't have liked each other. I'm not good at math and science, which I imagine he was. And I've read that he wasn't someone who suffered fools gladly, so his bluntness probably would have hurt my feelings.

But to an introvert like me -- at heart, I truly am one -- and to someone who loves words and music and the near-constant intake of information, he was a hero.

I often think of how amazing it would have been had Steve Jobs' inventions been around when I was in high school. Any confidence I had was in the words I put on paper. I can't imagine how many more relationships I would have been encouraged to form had I been given a fluid, easy way to transmit the words from my brain to others' eyes.

Expressing myself in writing made me courageous. Anything I couldn't say in conversation, I communicated easily via a pen or a typewriter. When I started college and worked for the first time on an awkward machine we called a "word processor," a new world opened to me.

Later in college, I was given the opportunity to try out a several-thousand-dollar MacIntosh computer. It was easy to use. My fingers flew over the keys, creating words with a swifter, lighter touch than my IBM Selectric required. I was hooked.

I didn't always use Apple computers; different jobs have required different machines. But I'll never forget holding my first iPod in my hand, when I could finally afford one after buying them for my kids, and hooking it up and downloading "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John. I was amazed that I could slip the device, small as a deck of cards, into my pocket and sing along as I unloaded the dishwasher.

I remember going with my son to buy his first MacBook so he could create the music he loved with an app called Garage Band. I remember my daughter's face when I won a brand-new iPad at her sorority event and handed it over to her.

And I remember receiving my first laptop -- a Mac, of course -- and appreciating the ease it brought to my life as I moved from place to place, desk to desk, meeting to meeting, creating words and sentences and thoughts without being slowed down by my ever-worsening penmanship.

Steve Jobs is also a hero to me for this reason: my nephew. Eighteen and in college now, Aidan is one of the lucky human beings who is destined to earn a paycheck -- likely a sizable one -- doing what he loves. I've never seen anyone who's had to work harder to earn good grades than Aidan does, but when it comes to his beloved computers, the world is his oyster.

He's been teaching others about technology since he was in elementary school, and just as my self-esteem was derived from words so long ago, Aidan's comes from the language he's able to speak when he's diagnosing someone's computer problem or fine-tuning a machine to make it faster. Jobs was Aidan's idol, and whatever amazing things my nephew decides to do will be a direct result of the sense of self that he developed from navigating motherboards and and servers and code.

I'm watching CNN as I type this, and Anderson Cooper just told a story of a man Jobs hired away from another company by asking him, "Do you want to spent the rest of your life selling colored water, or do you want to change the world?"

Alas, I think most of us are selling colored water. But because of people like Steve Jobs, we know that if we're courageous enough, the potential is there to, as he also once said, "make your vocation your vacation."

I'm not a risk-taker by nature, but perhaps tonight, I'll think a little harder about what I need to do -- not to change the whole world, exactly, but to evolve my little corner of it into somewhere I'll truly love to be.

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