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Do Like Steve Jobs Did: Don’t Follow Your Passion – Follow The Cash

October 10, 2012

I’m sure most of us know who Steve Jobs was. A maverick, a perfectionist, a man who revolutionised computing and generally the way we view technology. A true legend whose first calling, surprisingly was not in IT/computing despite the oft-quoted commencement speech he gave to Stanford University graduates back in June 2005. The take-away from that speech was “the key to occupational happiness is first to figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion“. In actual fact, it was not necessarily true, even where Jobs is concerned. I would like to reproduce below, an excerpt from an article in written by Cal Newport which demonstrates this fact:

If you had met a young Steve Jobs in the years leading up to his founding of Apple Computer, you wouldn’t have pegged him as someone who was passionate about starting a technology company. Jobs had attended Reed College, a prestigious liberal arts enclave in Oregon, where he grew his hair long and took to walking barefoot. Unlike other technology visionaries of his era, Jobs wasn’t particularly interested in either business or electronics as a student. He instead studied Western history and dance, and dabbled in Eastern mysticism.

Jobs dropped out of college after his first year, but remained on campus for a while, sleeping on floors and scrounging free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. As Jeffrey S. Young notes in his exhaustively researched 1988 biography, Steve Jobs: The Journey Is the Reward, Jobs eventually grew tired of being a pauper and, during the early 1970s, returned home to California, where he moved back in with his parents and talked himself into a night-shift job at Atari. (The company had caught his attention with an ad in the San Jose Mercury News that read, “Have fun and make money.”) During this period, Jobs split his time between Atari and the All-One Farm, a country commune located north of San Francisco. At one point, he left his job at Atari for several months to make a mendicants’ spiritual journey through India, and on returning home he began to train seriously at the nearby Los Altos Zen Center.

In 1974, after Jobs’s return from India, a local engineer and entrepreneur named Alex Kamradt started a computer time-sharing company dubbed Call-in Computer. Kamradt approached Steve Wozniak to design a terminal device he could sell to clients to use for accessing his central computer. Unlike Jobs, Wozniak was a true electronics whiz who was obsessed with technology and had studied it formally at college. On the flip side, however, Wozniak couldn’t stomach business, so he allowed Jobs, a longtime friend, to handle the details of the arrangement. All was going well until the fall of 1975, when Jobs left for the season to spend time at the All-One commune. Unfortunately, he failed to tell Kamradt he was leaving. When he returned, he had been replaced.

I tell this story because these are hardly the actions of someone passionate about technology and entrepreneurship, yet this was less than a year before Jobs started Apple Computer. In other words, in the months leading up to the start of his visionary company, Steve Jobs was something of a conflicted young man, seeking spiritual enlightenment and dabbling in electronics only when it promised to earn him quick cash.


Now, I bet you would’ve thought that Jobs was this technology junkie who struck it big with Apple Computer. His legend at Apple is well documented. How he established the company, got kicked out, got back in and transformed it into what it is today. Who would’ve thought that he was a person who yearned for spiritual enlightenment and was originally passionate about all things spiritual. He even left an IT-related job to pursue his interest only to find out he has been replaced when he returned.

My question is, what’s the deal with finding a job that suits your passion? I spoke about the topic with someone who offered me a simple conclusion – Steve Jobs “cakap tak serupa bikin”. In English, that means not walking the talk. He only was passionate about IT late on, presumably because it made him more money than going on a spiritual journey which was his interest in the first place. The thing about Jobs was that he eventually became passionate about IT and became incredibly good at it.

Let’s relate this to what we do. I am passionate about racing motorcycles. Could I do it? Probably I could if given the chance but when I was little, riding a bike or racing a go-kart was simply unheard of. I ended up doing law, which I became passionate about rather belatedly. Would I switch to motorcycle racing if I was given a chance now? Most probably not. Simply because by being a lawyer I am able to pay my bills, which I must say is substantial. It doesn’t keep me from being happy. I have other indulgences which keep me occupied and my interest stoked.

Are you currently doing what you’re passionate about?

steve jobs

Steve Jobs
* image courtesy of Google

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