The Steve Jobs I knew at Reed College, 1972-1974, was not anyone I would have guessed was destined to become Steve Jobs, Titan Of Industry. He was just a long-haried, sometimes barefoot, somewhat disheveled hippie with a fondness for taking saunas. Nothing about him suggested that he had any sort of drive to be materially successful. In fact, he exuded the sort of flaky, devil-may-care attitude that characterized our whole generation in those days. But even then there was a quiet, charismatic intensity about him, a sort of self-confidence beyond his years. It made you perk up your ears and listen to him when he spoke, despite his apparent aimlessness.
He once told me something I’ll never forget. It was a sort of offhand piece of advice that, as it turned out, stood me in very good stead many, many years later.
I was sitting under one of the shade trees in front of Eliot Hall, the oldest red-brick building on campus, and he came and sat down beside me, just to strike up a conversation. I believe it was our sophomore year; he may have already officially dropped out, although I knew he was still sitting in on classes (including, I believe, the calligraphy class that would change the world). I don’t remember whether I was playing my guitar – as I often did when I sat on the lawn – or not, but I do recall that it was my musicianship that had caused him to take notice of me in first place – really, it was the only noticeable thing about me. I remember envying what seemed to be his cavalier attitude toward formal education, because at this time I wanted nothing more than to finish what I considered primarily an obligation to my parents, get my B.A. as a philosophy major, and follow my heart into the jazz-fusion music business. When I expressed my frustration to him, he said the one and only thing that I think had any chance of setting my mind at ease at that moment… a very simple thing that made me see him in a whole new light as well: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with being an educated musician.” Partly because that little nugget of wisdom stuck with me, I returned to Reed after taking the next year off, finished my B.A., and left open a door to graduate school – and a second life as a professor – that I wouldn’t walk through for another 17 years.
I’m pretty sure that that was the last conversation we ever had. We were, at most, casual acquaintances, and I lost track of him entirely… until, some ten years later, I saw his face staring back at me on the cover of Time magazine.
Thanks again for the advice, Steve. And rest in peace.
Steve Jobs, a few years after our acquaintance.