Parenting lessons from Steve Jobs


I’m surprised by how sad I feel about Steve Jobs’s departure from Apple. While I’m a happy Apple customer, I don’t share the rabid brand fervor many Mac users do. I’ve never stood in an hours-long line at the Apple Store for a new iSomething. I don’t pay attention to Steve’s “…and one more thing” MacWorld keynotes. I only recently became an iPhone user, and that’s because, despite my cheapskate protests, Rael got me one for my birthday.

The news that Steve is stepping down as Apple’s CEO struck me on a more personal level than just a change of leadership or even the end of an era. It dawned on me just how much this man has influenced my career, and (because of my iPhone) the rest of my life. His personal vision really has changed my world.

I found myself watching a video of Steve’s commencement speech to Stanford University’s graduating class of 2005. I imagine few in his fresh-faced audience heard what I did…wise parenting advice.

If you’ve got a few minutes, watch it before you read on.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward.

Steve talked about his bumpy beginnings as an adoptee, his decision to drop out of college, and the unlikely chain of events that brought him to where he is today. No one, least of all he, could have predicted it.

The lesson he took from looking back over his crooked path: to trust that it’s leading somewhere meaningful.


Trust the world, trust your kid, trust yourself. Your kid is learning about her passions and preferences…pay attention to them, even if they are different than yours. Your intuition knows the way, even if it may not feel like it. There’s no better way to teach your children to trust themselves.

Do what you love. Don’t settle.

We hear this advice often enough that it sounds idealistic and Pollyanna-ish. It’s not. We truly do only have one shot…at parenting and at life. Let’s show our children how to reach — and risk — for what truly matters to them. That their dreams are theirs alone, and they deserve to go for them.

I also take from this the crucial importance not only to do the work of parenting, but to enjoy it. To enjoy those children. To carve out time for fun and affection…not just the daily “must-dos.”

Most things must be learned in person.

Listening to Steve deliver this profound advice to hundreds of intelligent, likely overconfident Stanford grads, I was blown away by the realization that I get it. Like, in my bones, I get it. He’s not sharing guru-level, idealized wisdom — this is basic truth. But truth that requires enough experience to appreciate.

(An aside: I had a similar realization reading Stephen King’s brilliant introduction to the revised edition of The Gunslinger. I hated the book, but I will never, ever forget that introduction.)

My kids don’t always understand nor can they always use my advice. As much as they might appreciate it, they must find their own crooked paths.

I remember listening to the speech at my own university commencement over 20 years ago. My recollection is that the speech was pleasant enough, but irrelevant. Few 22 year-olds can integrate 40-, 50-, or 60+ year-old wisdom.

Well, here I am, solidly inhabiting middle age. And he hit it on the head.

But it also reminded me that, just as my 22 year-old self couldn’t use many of the lessons imparted by an old guy’s graduation speech, my kids don’t always understand nor can they always use my advice. As much as they might appreciate it, they must find their own crooked paths. A bitter pill to swallow, perhaps, but important to keep in mind.

I wish the Jobs family well as they move into a new phase of their life together. I’m thankful for Steve’s singular vision. And I hope a few of those Stanford grads listen to that speech again when they get a little older, and certainly when they become parents.

(Another aside: I’d like to point you to Stefania Butler’s lovely post Thank you, Steve Jobs. I was touched when I read it at the time, and I understood her [and her mothers’] impulse to want to thank someone you’ve never met.)

This post originally appeared on my Babble Voices blog, The Accidental Expert, in 2011.

October 5, 2011: Steve Jobs passed away today. I offer my heartfelt sympathy to his wife, Laurene, his four children, and all of his family and friends. I am thankful for everything he brought to the world, to me and to my family.

Photo by Katie McNabb on Unsplash