Monday, November 28, 2005

Off Topic: "You've got to find what you love" -- high tech hero

I always had 2 career dreams; high-tech and media communication. Moving to Israel meant I had to sacrifice the media communication dream of movie direction and theatrics in favor of the solid economic decision of working in high tech. The financial responsibility of wanting to start a family outweighed the dream of going to Maaleh, Israel's religious film school. I don't have any regrets, but the dream still lives on -- and that's why I blog.

One of my high tech heroes is Steve Jobs. He spoke this past June at Stanford University's commencement address. Though speeches like this usually find me sooner, Jobs' speech found me later. Find a few minutes today to read it. Enjoy.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.


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10 comments:

Batya said...

Yes, it's a great one.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think Mr. Jobs has answered some of those vexing and torturous hashkafik issues Mr. Godol-Hador and other victims of an observant yet terribly meaningless life (obvious in their detailed, time-consuming, yet pitiful rants) are plagued with.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Anonymous: If only GH and others would realize that the key to hashkafic happiness is, "Connect the Dots", "Love what you do", and "don't waste time living someone else's life."

Maybe thats why Steve Jobs is asked to speak at Stamford, while GH is only...

Anonymous said...

Ah, Jameel, you hit it right on the head again, brother.

You know, it's very clear in both the pshat and drash that this is indeed what one must do.

As for speaking at Stamford vs. 'whatever', I think the fact that such learned ones in Torah and observant ones of Mitzvot should live in the 'gah-loose' in order to split hairs over non-issues in the name of perfecting their hashkafa, rather than being in Israel and making Israel holier and more of a kiddush HaShem says a great deal...

It is similar to what would happen if Mr. Jobs had enlisted those caligraphy skills to make a nice cardboard sign to use when panhandling under a bridge somewhere, for example, to get money to buy more books about totally useless, impractical philosophies...

I'm glad you put up this blog and choose to comment on these type of things, at least someone can read your stuff and has a chance to get inspired to do something useful [like make Aliyah, pronto!].


Truth.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Truth: The tricky part is to encourage people to move here, despite the challenges. And what a challenge it is!

We have awful politics to worry about. We have bad guys who wish us dead. We have Haaretz...

As Rashi points out concerning the pit which Yosef was thrown into by his brothers, "the pit was empty with no water in it". Obviously if its empty, there's no water in it!

Rashi's answer is that nature abhors a vacuum. Without water in the pit, snakes and scorpions fill up the pit instead.

If Eretz Yisrael is not filled up with Torah and Jews who are committed to mitzvot and chessed, then it will be be filled up with snakes and scorpions.

I need to address these points in a coming posting, about "Why Move to Israel if there are so many Problems."

Anonymous said...

Jameel said: I need to address these points in a coming posting, about "Why Move to Israel if there are so many Problems."

Perhaps I can make a suggestion, maybe you could address this in a coming posting, about "Why there are so many problems in Israel because of Jews [particularly 'Western' Jews] who don't move there"...


Truth.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Truth dot anonymous:

I can't be too antagonistic on my blog, or no one will visit. Its not like I have a large cadre of groupies that DovBear or GH have, that routinely come to get beaten up...and keep coming back for more.

Anonymous said...

I think you can go a very long way toward your dreams in media without attending "film school".

The technological barrier has never been lower.

And carefully working your way through the canon of great films can easily be done through a combination of Cinematek membership and DVDs - leavning you MUCH more visually literate than "film school".

I had a similar choice - art and design, or engineering - and I was basically forced to do engineering. I don't regret it - from the few art courses I was able to squeeze into my schedule, it was clear that art was something that you learn through doing, and there was a a lot of BS passing for instruction.

I have managed to do a lot on my own. I think the same is true of media. You can pick up the technical knowledge more quickly from a book - or from many websites - and then you just have to keep experimenting.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

anonymous: Thanks for your comment! Any practical advice/websites/books would be appreciated. Drop me an email.

I just wish I had more time...work is a real time drain.

Jack's Shack said...

I enjoyed that.

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