Skip the College and Get Rich – Lessons from Steve Jobs

You go to work and do your job. You come home and spend time with your wife and kids. You sleep feeling happy. You go to work, do your job, pay your bills, care for your children, obey the law, buy products month after month and you’re happy. You’re really and truly happy. It feels good to do the best you can do, to keep improving and doing everything required of you. Sometimes you think of other people who are poorer or richer than you but you’re comfortable with where you are. As you get older, you grow weary of your job. It’s no one’s fault but it’s just how time goes. Time breathes change into you and you need something new, something different. You keep going to work and doing your job, but you start planning for what comes next. You start saving your money, and this time it’s not for vacation or a new car or television. This time you’re saving money in order to take a huge gamble on yourself. You keep developing your idea and watch it evolve into something tangible, something you believe people will want and love. You spend the next year going to work but always returning home to work on this new project, this new business. Every day it becomes more realized, more possible, and then you’re finally ready to show it to the world. You quit your job and unveil your new company, which begins slow, which is why you saved money. You knew you’d need to go at least a few years without a salary, so you keep pushing and pushing. Gradually, it picks up but every success meets countless disappointments and difficulties. You’re too old now to start over again. You need this to work because if it doesn’t then there’s nothing left. Money becomes tight even as your kids are preparing to go to college. You wonder how you’ll pay so you work harder, always pushing more and more. As your first child enters college, you begin making a profit. It’s small, but it’s a success and you rejoice with your family, going out to dinner. At the restaurant you see story after story about the man who just died, who founded several wildly successful companies and is now worth billions. He never graduated college like you did. He never worked for other people year in and year out the way you did. You know it wasn’t a waste, all the years you spent doing what you did, but you wonder what life could’ve been like if you had been a bit braver, a little more reckless, a lot more imaginative.

Steve Jobs is often regarded as one of the most influential people of the last thirty years. He changed the way we experience music, film, and the way we use computers and phones. Often referred to as the Father of the Digital Revolution, he was the creative and visionary force behind Pixar, NeXT, and Apple, developing some of the most widely used and recognized electronic devices currently used. Steve Jobs was a legendary entrepreneur who was both kicked out of the first company he founded and then asked to take it over years later. He rose to the top of Disney, becoming a member of the board of directors after turning Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division into Pixar, which was acquired by Disney. He oversaw the development of iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, which is, perhaps, what he’ll be best remembered for.

But how did he get there? Who was Steve Jobs before he was the man we all knew and recognized?

Steve Jobs was adopted at birth and raised in California in 1955. Though he came to know he was adopted, he never questioned who his parents were, considering his adopted parents his only true parents. Jobs’ father worked as a mechanic and carpenter and taught Jobs how to work with his hands and also gave him lessons on rudimentary electronics. With his father in their garage, Jobs learned to take apart and rebuild electronics, such as radios and televisions, which became a passion of his. In addition, his mother taught him to read before he went to school, a place that Jobs found frustrating and limiting. He frequently got in trouble for playing pranks on others, eventually skipping a grade. He and a few of his boyhood friends became interested in computers, and they built computers together.

After high school, Jobs went to college for only six months but spent the following eighteen sitting in on classes for free and sleeping on the floors of his friends’ dormrooms. He returned soda bottles for food money and got meals at the local Hare Krishna temple.

Jobs’ friend, Steve Wozniak, designed his own version of the video game, Pong, which he gave to Jobs, who took it to Atari. Believing that Jobs had built it, they gave him a job as a technician. He was known for being very difficult to work with but incredibly intelligent and valuable. After working for Atari for for nearly two years, Jobs left the US to travel India for seven months in search of spiritual enlightenment. Upon his return he experimented with psychedelics and became a serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which would remain central to his life.

After these experiences, he returned to Atari and created several arcade games for them. Despite having little specialized knowledge, he and Wozniak made a deal to work together and split the fees paid. Following Wozniak’s further designs, Jobs decided they could work together to make electronics fun and profitable, which would become Apple in 1976. Wozniak was the technician behind Apple but Jobs was the entrepreneur. Without Jobs, Wozniak may never have sold anything, but Jobs turned his machines into a business. Jobs brought charisma and a dynamic personality to Apple and pushed for new innovative products. He took big risks and gambled on the market and his own belief and designs. Despite this, he was a demanding and difficult person to work with, which led to a power struggle between him and the board, resulting in him leaving the company.

Rather than sulk about losing the company he founded, he immediately jumped back into computers. In retrospect, he called it one of the best things that ever happened to him. He founded NeXT Inc immediately after leaving Apple, developing the NeXT Workstation, which was highly advanced but extremely expensive. Finding little traction in the commercial market, he marketed the products to financial, scientific, and academics highlighting its innovative technologies. Tim Berners-Lee would use the NeXT to invent the World Wide Web.

After NeXT, Jobs bought the graphics division of Lucasfilms and renamed it Pixar, which would go on to become one of the most successful animation studios in history, with a succession of incredibly popular films, like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up. By 1996, Apple bought NeXT, bringing Jobs back into the company. From this point, he would revolutionize electronics once more taking Apple from the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most profitable companies in the world.

As you can see, the journey of Steve Jobs had very little to do with formal education. Unlike Bill Gates, a contemporary and competitor, Jobs never took college seriously and quit rather quickly. Jobs took a winding road to his success, which brought him through the counter-culture of the 70s, eastern spiritualism, and intense capitalism to grow Apple and Pixar into the companies we all recognize now.

Steve Jobs was a rare genius who believed so fully in himself and his ability to succeed that success became natural to him. He had a keen eye for design, functionality, innovation, and branding. His rebranding of Apple products in the 2000s turned Apple into a multibillion dollar company, and launched his estimated wealth into the billions along with it, though he only took a $1 a year salary.

He was a demanding perfectionist, and this is perhaps what he owes his success to, along with his abilities. He constantly sought to be ahead of the curve, pushing for products that would set the next trend. This led to a real emphasis on innovation and design. However, the personality traits that made him a success also made him incredibly difficult to work with, and he was named one of the toughest bosses in the US.

His charisma and drive created a “reality distortion field,” which is the term coined by Bud Tribble to describe Jobs’ effect on his developers. Because of his strong belief in his projects and his unrelenting charisma, his developers worked harder and better, more creatively. He had a magnetism that carried Apple and the public with him.

There are few men like Steve Jobs in history, and there will likely be few in the future. He was a man who needed little guidance in life because he was building new roads for the world to travel. He opened the eyes of humanity to new possibilities. He was a visionary and a formal education never even entered his mind as an essential part of life. He learned through experience, which can maybe be attributed to all those years he spent with his father tinkering with electronics in their garage.