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Never Settle! Secrets of an Innovator

Apple CEO Steve Jobs exemplifies lifelong learning and creativity.

Even Jobs's detractors allow that he is smart and charismatic. His annual presentations at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco are renowned for captivating an audience of 40,000 people. Still, his gift of persuasion is only part of the reason he's left an indelible mark on U.S. technology. Simply put, Jobs is extraordinarily driven, both in his goals and the lengths he will go to realize them. His early life offers hints as to why he is so determined to achieve, and build—rather than rest—on his success.

Born to unmarried graduate students in Wisconsin, Steve Jobs was adopted at birth by a California-based machinist and his wife. When he was in his 20s, Jobs reconnected with his biological mother and sister—the novelist Mona Simpson—but some of his friends have speculated that the entrepreneur was desperate to achieve renown in part because of his adoption. "At some deep level, there was an insecurity that he had to go out and prove himself," a college classmate of Jobs has said. "I think being an orphan drove Steve in ways that most of us can never understand."

Whether or not being put up for adoption fueled Jobs's determination, it is hard to see how he would have become a 20-year-old technology buff if he hadn't been raised in Silicon Valley, an environment rife with extraordinarily talented engineers. Jobs describes his father Paul as "a kind of genius with his hands." When Steve was a young boy, he joined his father at his workbench. He also apprenticed with neighbors who taught him the rudiments of electronics.

His Favorite Teacher. While Jobs managed to acquire a remarkable education outside of school, the classroom held little appeal for him. His enterprising mindset chafed at being told what to do and learn. By the third grade Jobs was notorious for setting off explosives in teachers' desks and setting snakes loose in class.

The following year, however, marked a turning point. His teacher, Mrs. Hill, sensed his innate intelligence and allowed Jobs to learn at his own pace. She had him complete workbooks apart from the rest of the class and gave him a kit to make his own camera. "I think I learned more academically in that one year than I learned in my life," Jobs said in an oral history interview with the Smithsonian Institution.

One downside to his scholastic blossoming, however, was that Jobs was promoted a grade, landing in a middle school in a marginal part of town. He was so miserable that at the age of 11, he told his parents that he would not return to the school. His mother and father acceded, sold their home, and moved.

It wasn't just with his parents that Jobs demonstrated a force of will unusual in a person his age. When he was a teenager, Jobs cold-called Bill Hewlett, one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard; during the 20-minute conversation he ended up finagling a summer job at an HP assembly plant. He also became close friends with Steve Wozniak, another electronics fanatic, despite the fact that Wozniak, or Woz, was five years Jobs's senior.

His Favorite Class. When it came time to go to university, Jobs announced he would attend Reed College, a small liberal arts institution in Oregon. The private-school tuition was wiping out his working-class family's savings, however, and after six months, Jobs decided to drop out. He didn't pack his bags, though; Jobs remained on campus another year and a half, auditing classes.

One of his favorite subjects was calligraphy, not exactly a course that was going to improve his career prospects. Except, in an unforeseen way, it did: In his Stanford address, Jobs reflected that learning about serif and sans serif typefaces had a huge influence on the Mac. He wanted Apple's computer to reproduce the beautiful script he'd learned at Reed. Jobs's college course ultimately set the standard for desktop publishing.

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