Not Like Steve

I work a lot. Less now than before, but still more than I should. I like work and will probably continue to do some kind of it for as long as I can.

Last fall, I read Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs. I’m fascinated by Jobs, and found the book hard to put down. I wanted to better understand the man, and perhaps gain insight into his success. The part that stuck with me, though, wasn’t what I had expected. It was that Jobs authorized the biography so that his kids could know him.

For all the insight into the mind of the consumer, ability to see past the short-sightedness of focus groups, once-in-a-lifetime mix that enabled him to build the world’s most valuable company, he was stumped by the most simple of problems.

If you want your kids to know you, spend time with them. (Biographer unnecessary.)

For a long time, work was my only thing. I worked evenings, weekends, and Christmas. At those rare times when I wasn’t at work in body, I was there in spirit, unable to speak or think of much else. I wanted so badly to climb the mountain that I stopped asking why I was doing it.

I admire Steve for the mountains he climbed. At the same time, I wonder if he missed the whole point, becoming the John Henry of our time. He won the race, but at what cost?

Me? I may turn out to be a failure in business, but I refuse to fail my kids.

I leave the final words to Bill; he says it so much better than me:


  1. Good point! As I’m not a parent though, I’m wondering how this can be applied to me… (maybe same moral, but friends instead of kids?) Okay, not quite the same.

    Still, I agree with your point though (‘…may be to not get so wrapped up in any one thing that we miss our lives)’ – absolutely!

  2. You say he won the race but I’d say, based on what you’re saying, he won the wrong race. At some point he decided his ongoing legacy was his company and it was more important than his children. That’s just shameful. A father that does not take care of his children, all aspects of his kid’s needs, not just financially, has failed his highest calling.

    As my email signature has said for years now, “Success is looking forward to going to work AND looking forward to going home.” I think someone can still be a success if they pour themselves into caring for their spouse and kids but fail at business but it just doesn’t work the other way around.

    I find it interesting that some of the public views Steve Jobs as some sort of demi-god and thinks of Bill Gates as his evil nemesis. When you look at them personally, Steve sacrificed his family to build a huge company but Bill, while I don’t know how he treated his family, has dedicated his life to saving millions of lives all over the world through his charity. While Apple has saved up 100 billion dollars, Bill has personally given away 26 billion.

  3. It always makes me sad when one of my friends proclaims that he wants to be ‘just like Steve.’ Jobs could have easily been known by his children, had he put them before his beliefs, fear, and company. They were so far down the totem pole, it broke my heart.

    They deserved a father that loved them and was present, not one that, on a Saturday morning, was more interested in logo design than having pancakes with them. And yet the men in my field (software development) tell stories about him working at all hours as if he were a god, beyond questioning.

    I once asked, when someone told me the logo story, who was having breakfast with the kids. They gave me a disgusted look. Steve was ABOVE that.

    No. No one is.

  4. Inspiring. Well said. It would be interesting to find out what he (the protagonist) thinks about this. Whether he would do it again.
    Lately I’ve been leaning towards work because it’s the only thing where time and effort spend could be crudely linked with the result. In a relationship of any kind (kids, girlfriend, friends) there’s this risk that all invested may wasted somehow. The hard to understand truth is that the effort spend makes the one richer from the inside and not only the girl, kids or friends.
    I cannot think of anything else that is worth focusing on. A noble cause at the end is just work. But a better kind of work.

  5. I think what’s missing here is some context.

    Steve knew that he was dying, and that a lot about his career and how he grew up, he wouldn’t be able to tell his kids when they were older. Hence the biographer (although I think he picked the wrong one) to help pass on those stories.

    My impression is that he did regret not spending more time with them when they were very young, but he made sure he was around a lot more over the last ten years of his life.

    I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, who was one of the soldiers who went into Belsen at the end of WWII. He never talked about it, probably because I was too young at the time to understand about it. I only found out about it years after he died. I think Jobs saw the stories in his biography the same. Stuff that he would like the kids to know, but there were more important stories and experiences with his kids to share while he was still here, and it was those he wanted to work on while he was alive.

  6. I think you are missing the point. It is entirely possible to spend a ton of times with your kids and still want them to know you from a perspective that they otherwise might only hope to see when they are old enough to see you as someone other than “Dad.”

    There are things you share with your children directly – mostly the things that you share as part of your family experience. What what little I’ve heard, Jobs was no slacker in this regard. (Have you checked into this with people who know prior to making your negative assumptions about him and his family? I didn’t think so…)

  7. These aren’t negative assumptions, nor do I feel any particular need to malign Jobs. I do, however, feel that we can learn from others’ actions, and believe that’s what I’m doing by asking these questions.

    The book does—repeatedly—make note of the tenuous link Jobs had with his children. While there may be inaccuracies in the biography, I have to stress that he asked (even implored) Isaacson to write it. As a result, I think it reasonable for us to consider it a reasonably sound account of who the man was.

  8. I agree with G Dan Mitchell that you can still not know someone even after having spend a lot of time with them.

    In addition to this, I believe some people are just not wired to be caregivers like others are. Although Steve Jobs may not have been there for his kids when they scrapped their knees or had recitals, he was able show them that anything was possible and that he was actually doing it.

    Although the impression he left them as a father was nothing great, I’m sure that for decades to come, they will hear personally from people whose lives were changed by the things he dedicated his life to. Possibly through those testimonials, they’ll understand his role in this world and why he did what he did and why he was how he was.

    1. I don’t think anyone denies the impact he had on technology. At the same time, your kids don’t really need to hear how great you were. They just want to be with you. There isn’t a substitute for that.

  9. I do consider all the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They’re very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are very brief for starters. Could you please lengthen them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  10. I have a wildy different take on this. I really could care less about Steve Jobs’s kids. I would rather have the iPod. The most important things he did were not his family, anyone can do that. He changed the world, in ways most people can’t imagine, I can forgive him for being absent. Truth is, most people can’t do much else but a family, more so, that is often all they want, which is fine for them, but we are not rebuilding after a flood, as smart as we are (or supposed to be), we need to be trying to do more than procreate.

    PS: I have read his biography, those kids didnt suffer.

  11. I don’t think it’s that black and white. I just dont think reproducing ourselves is our greatest accomplishment, we should reach for greater heights than that. Thousands are born, and thousands die every day – shouldnt life have more meaning than just continuing that cycle?

    1. There are plenty of ways to live a life. What’s unfortunate is when people choose to have children, and then fail to be present. (Should one have different goals, they can simply abstain from procreation.)

      Overwhelmingly, though, I’m not judging Jobs’ decisions. I just think there may be something to be learned from them.

  12. @Ryan: “I just don’t think reproducing ourselves is our greatest accomplishment,”. I completely agree with you, and for this reason I don’t plan to have children.
    But, if I get kids some day, even by an accident, I believe I should give them caress and love more than money.
    My father was a very poor guy, no fame, no money, no glory, only debts and unlimited cherish to me and my sister. I admire him so much as a human person, not as a “demi-god”. After became an adult, I began to admire the ones who revolutionized the history of mankind. Those were really great minds and characters, but none of them made me forget my father.
    Not judging Steve Jobs. In fact, I really don’t know and don’t care a lot about him and his company or products. I am here just because I like ERIC KARJALUOTO thoughts (since I knew him through @alexandreplanta that lent me the “Speak Human” book), and this post really made me think about how many time I am not spending with the ones I really love: wife, mother, sister, friends.

  13. Steve was believer in karma and destiny. History remember the men who made the stuffs not the who loved the family. It is tale of Romeo & Juliet of being love next to Adam and Eve love. Giving enough attentions to kids will work good. Having a good spouse who can balance kids and family.

  14. I don’t think Mr. Jobs was unique in this respect. Throughout history there have been people for whom their passion is all-consuming, leaving good things for humanity mixed in the same wake as failed marriages and personal relationships.

    I didn’t read the bio, but in Googling around it looks like one of his other projects was the building of a yacht on which he hoped to travel the world with his family.

    It’s hard to try and balance the greater good of mankind against the immediate needs of family members. No matter what others do, you can only choose what *you* will do in this life.

  15. To do something important in the world and to have kids are the two strongest motivators for humans today.

    Trying to balance those in such a way that neither suffer is the dream of idealists and, sorry to say, cry-hearts.

    Did his kids get the same level of love and attention that the iPhone and iPad did? I don’t know, but I bet they knew they were loved.

    If you don’t have kids AND a professional passion, why-the-hell-are-you-commenting?!

  16. Steve Jobs was excellent at utilizing the talents of others to push forward his ideas. He was the ultimate poser, and he succeeded in being recognized for the involvement of creating some amazing devices. He created nothing himself. He wrote ZERO lines of code. He soldered ZERO PCBs. As with all technology, his devices have a shelf life. Kudos to Steve for having been THAT guy during THAT time, but LIFE and FAMILY are just as important. You only have a small (and unknown) amount of time in which to bestow your greatest asset, LOVE, unto them. He chose to put his IDEAS before his family. He chose to leave his first-born in the dust as he blazed trails using other people’s intellect. I like Steve, but he wasn’t the greatest example of a human. His devices did change the way we do things, but they are just a blip in the technological landscape. Family is FAR more improtant.

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