In death, we have a habit of lionizing people even beyond the point we did when they walked among the living. Right now, the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are being dragged all over the internet for their narcissistic behavior.
While one consistently damages the reputation of his brand by spouting nonsense on social media, the other is standing by while his platform allows disinformation all over the world. Some of that disinformation has led to literal bloodshed, in multiple countries.
Unfortunately, when either one of these men passes away, we will rewrite history to celebrate them in a way they likely don’t deserve. Of course, right now, there are plenty of people who worship them despite the chaos they’ve created in the world.
That’s precisely what we’ve done with Steve Jobs. Well, to an extent.
Being Steve Jobs
There’s a lot to get excited about. The biological son of an immigrant and adopted at birth, Jobs rose to prominence after starting his business in a garage. It sounds like one of those ‘American Dream’ stories.
The reality of Jobs, though, is that he was a bad boss, a terrible father to his firstborn, and a difficult boss to work for. It would be remiss of us not to highlight how, despite his close relationship with Steve Wozniak, he still cut him out of the profit earned from Pong, with Wozniak doing the work and Jobs lying about how much profit was involved so he could pocket the majority of it himself.
Or, how he refused to give Apple shares to the earliest employees, or the highly inappropriate questions he would ask interview candidates.
The people around him enabled his behavior because he was a misunderstood genius. No, he wasn’t. For all his genius, he wasn’t misunderstood, he was just a jerk. For Jobs, his sole focus was on the job at hand, feelings didn’t enter the equation for him so he didn’t particularly care about anyone else or what they might have been thinking or going through. It was about the end-product. Something great for end-users and consumers, but not so great for the people around him.
Even before his death, he was a figure of worship. This is why he was such a difficult person to work with. When you surround yourself with people who worship you, when you surround yourself with people who don’t challenge you, your ego simply grows. When you’re the smartest person in every room you enter, people tend to treat you with deference.
Jobs didn’t settle. Jobs strived to be the best. The problem was how he got there and for Jobs, the ends did justify the means.
At 12, he secured a summer position at the Hewlett-Packard Factory. Just a year later he would meet Steve Wozniak, the peanut butter to his jam. Three years later they released blue boxes that would allow free phone calls, they sold them illegally. He dropped out of college the following year before moving to a commune.
His first proper job was with Atari, as a video game maker. It wasn’t until 1976 that they (along with Ronald Wayne) would incorporate Apple Computer Inc. From there, they started building computers in Jobs’ garage, selling them on to hobbyists.
By 1978, they were releasing the Apple II, the first personal computer to be mass-marketed. While the Apple III was a veritable flop, Apple went public making Jobs hundreds of millions of dollars. By 1982, he was on the way to fame as the Steve Jobs we know now. In 1984, we met the Macintosh. While he resigned from Apple in 1985, he returned as CEO in 1997 (though, not officially until 2000). From there, the iMac would arrive in 1998, the iBook in 1999, the iPod in 2001, the iPod mini in 2004.
From 2003 until his death, Jobs was fighting pancreatic cancer. He would try alternative diets initially until finally having the tumor removed in 2004. In that time, Apple continued to produce new products, from the MacBook Pro to the iPhone (2007) and finally, the iPad (2010). In August 2011, he resigned as Apple’s CEO and he passed away at home, in October 2011, with his family surrounding him.
There’s a lot to admire from the timeline of his life. It was an incredible one. The point is, that for all his ‘genius,’ when you strip all of that away, what you are left with is a man. Steve Jobs was human and humans aren’t perfect.
You can respect the work he did, but no human being on this planet is worthy of our worship. While people point at Mother Teresa as an example of a perfect person, they overlook her flaws…like the lack of medication and poor facilities despite millions of dollars in donations. According to Forbes, only 7% of the money raised was used to support her charity work. She was a human and in death, she was lionized.
The Lionization of Steve Jobs
There’s this idea that we should not speak ill of the dead but being honest about someone’s flaws is not speaking ill of them, not when they’ve become heroes or figures of worship to the masses. Ultimately, when we lionize flawed people, we’re saying that those flaws are okay to have. We’re all flawed, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to treat people poorly.
There are plenty of qualities that Steve Jobs possessed that people could respect and wish to emulate. Sadly, many seize on the wrong things. Just do a quick search for the number of articles encouraging people to be more like Steve Jobs by acting like a jerk. That’s the wrong takeaway from the life of a complicated genius. Rather than focusing on his spirit of innovation, overall vision, or even the painstaking care he took to craft the ultimate customer experience, people laud his bad behavior.
The greatest leaders are role models, the people who model ethical, positive behavior and give credit to the people who have earned it. Whether your hero is Steve Jobs or Steve next door, don’t elevate it to hero-worship. You can respect the incredible products that Steve Jobs masterminded, but you can’t sweep away his bad behavior.
It’s normal to erase the negative stories, qualities, and traits of people we admire. We do so all the time, with Hollywood actors, musicians, bosses, parents, teachers, and others (long gone and current). There’s something within these people that we recognize in ourselves or something that we want to be.
There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot to admire about Steve Jobs, there’s a lot to take away and build within yourself.
However, we have to get better at separating fact from fiction. We have to get better at admiring traits, skills, and achievements versus putting those people on a pedestal to hero-worship them.
This is not to discourage you from appreciating everything Steve Jobs did for technology and beyond, rather it’s to challenge the way you think about all of the people our media lifts up and chooses to highlight for worship.