The Passion of Steve Jobs

The below post was published at the original "Ignatian Educator" site, the first iteration of this blog, on June 1, 2013. Many of those posts remain timely, and from time to time I will share some of my favorites with readers here at America.

I just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, a very fine book with a number of great anecdotes. I know that a biography on Jobs might not be material normally found on The Ignatian Educator, but there are a few excerpts from the book that connect to themes found on this site.


For example, in 2009 Jobs was in a Memphis hospital being treated for his cancer. Isaacson reports:

Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. The doctors looked at [Jobs's wife], puzzled. She was finally able to distract him so they could put on the mask. He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply.

So that’s what you get when the man behind the iPhone is your patient.

It’s a telling story, and I think some may dismiss it as part of Jobs’s eccentricity. But it’s more than that. I think it’s a look into his greatness as a designer and executive. He absolutely loved the world of technology and design. It was his obsession, essentially his religion. I realize there are risks in absolutizing anything that isn’t God, and Jobs’s totalizing commitment to his work alienated many people, including his family. But his life does teach the lesson that greatness must come from a passion for the work, or for the product, or for the institution or company.

I see this with teachers. The best teachers LOVE their subject, and their students, and everything that goes into being a teacher (except, of course, grading); they obsess over the arrangement of desks and the details of assignments and exams. The best teachers I’ve met — some of whom are my colleagues — have a devotion to their teams and their classes in a manner analogous to a parent’s devotion to a child. They see their work as intimately connected to their own identity, their own imprint on existence. The success of the universe hinges upon their students’ breakthroughs. In their work on the whiteboard or near the lockers, there are cosmic implications.

I think this is what, in part, made Apple so successful. Jobs wasn’t in it for the money; he was in it because he couldn’t conceive of a life where he wasn’t utterly immersed in creating great products, marrying art, technology, and simplicity. On his worst days, Jobs was demonized by his passion; on his best, though, he let that passion empower a creativity that has done what he always wanted to do, “put a dent in the universe.”

So here’s the question: How do we get teachers thinking about their classes the way Jobs felt about products and design? How do we get teachers who believe that their teaching can and should put a dent in the universe?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Xavier High School students fill West 16th Street during the National School Walkout Day. (Credit: Shawna Gallagher Vega/Xavier High School)
Our student body generated dialogue around a topic that we did not all agree on.
Devin OnMarch 23, 2018
Protesters gather near the Manchester Central Fire Station in Manchester, N.H., Monday, March 19, 2018, where President Donald Trump madee an unscheduled visit. Trump is in New Hampshire to unveil more of his plan to combat the nation's opioid crisis. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
To suggest the use of the death penalty as a way to address the opioid epidemic ignores what we know already to be true: The death penalty is a flawed and broken tool in the practical pursuit of justice.
Karen CliftonMarch 23, 2018
(Images: Wikimedia Commons, iStock/Composite: America)
An angel whispered in my ear: “Fred, ‘Be not afraid.’”
Fred DaleyMarch 23, 2018
(photo: Music Box Films)
“Back to Burgundy” is about family tensions boiled up by both the financial and artistic challenges of the wine business.