I am deep into reading the Steve Jobs biography. It is fascinating, and, as I read, I see so many connections between his childhood environment and his great success as a modern day explorer, genius and entrepreneur.
Everything started with his parents, of course. Jobs was adopted as an infant by parents who really wanted a child. His birth parents were well-educated but young and not ready for children and marriage. He was adopted by a father who was passionate about machines and a down-to-earth mother who worked as a bookkeeper. They had not even graduated from high school, but were earnest, hard-working people who sacrificed lots for Jobs. They adapted their lives to suit a son whom they recognized as very smart and very willful.
Jobs knew from an early age he was adopted; his parents were very open about it. When he was 6 or 7, his neighborhood playmate asked him if his adoption meant that his real parents didn’t want him. He ran home crying and his parents explained that they specifically picked him out, he was chosen. This concept became part of who Jobs was and how he regarded himself, extremely confident and almost egocentric.
Others thought his abandonment at birth made him fiercely independent. He followed the beat of a different drummer. Possibly a combination of both led to his personal development and success.
Dad’s mechanical abilities, precision and great care in doing things well greatly influenced Jobs. Dad crafted the insides of things that no one would see, as beautifully as the outside, and included Jobs in all his projects. Through Dad’s car mechanics, Jobs became interested in electronics, scavenging for parts and bargaining.
The Jobses lived in an Eichler house in the Bay area. Eichler’s designs were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, yet they were simple, elegant and for the middle class. They were smart and cheap with clean design and simple taste to attract lower-income people. This appreciation of his childhood home instilled in Jobs the passion for making nicely designed products for the mass market. It became the original vision for the elegance of Apple products, the MacIntosh, the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
The neighborhood was filled with engineers, and Jobs had exposure to all sorts of backyard and garage projects – photovoltaics, batteries, radar, ham radios, and carbon microphones and amplifiers.
His parents recognized his brilliance and drive. They found ways to keep feeding him stimulating electronic activities and were careful to make sure he was in the best possible school environment. They were willing to defer to his needs, even financially.
School is also where it became clear to Jobs to not always accept authority, something he carried with him all his life. He played many creative pranks at school for which his parents never punished him. They felt that if the teachers were keeping him stimulated, he would have been more focused in the classroom.
In fourth grade, with help from an insightful teacher, he finally became fascinated with school learning and scored at the 10th-grade level in intelligence tests. He was moved up to the sixth grade, which was socially awkward for Jobs, and he hated it. So, Mom and Dad scraped together $21,000 and bought a house in a nicer neighborhood with much better schools.
Here, Jobs’ neighbors introduced him to organic gardening, and he began to appreciate organic fruits and vegetables. Throughout his life, he was obsessed with dietary habits, often fasting, bingeing on carrots and eventually treating his cancer with diet therapies.
When seeing a young calf being born, Jobs described it as the mother being hard-wired to know what to do. This was the beginning of the hardware-software terminology.
He walked 15 blocks to school; he took long walks all his life. His high school friends smoked pot and did LSD; so did Jobs, which enlightened him to “create great things.” He watched his parents work hard and worked hard himself on his paper route and his first job at Atari; he worked relentlessly at Apple. A calligraphy class at Reed College was the basis for the iMac’s multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts.
There is so much more. This is a real life, greatly influenced by his home, his family, his early experiences. It reinforces so much to me that the childhood years are precious. What opportunities are we giving our kids? What kinds of role models are we? How much are we willing to sacrifice? Do we see our children’s strengths and potentials, and do we encourage them?
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has kids. Who would have ever thought it was a parenting manual?
firstname.lastname@example.org. Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years.