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How One Encounter With Steve Jobs Remapped My Future

I met Steve Jobs in 1981—at least I remember it as ‘81—at the Stanford Design Conference, where he happened to be speaking. In the lineup of primarily male, suited speakers, he stood out in his jeans, with his swoopy hair and overabundance of youthful passion. When he shared his vision regarding the future of personal computing, it was as if he parted a veil and we could see directly into that future. An engine ignited in me that day. It compelled me—and still compels me— to, by any manner or means possible, live in that future.

I had not heard of him before. I was newly out of college, a casual artist/designer at best, living a simple life in a cloistered college town. And yet, I knew that he knew what he was talking about. All of a sudden I wanted to move to California, work at Apple, and be around THAT vision. He foretold the future and that was where I wanted to reside.

At lunch, he came over and we talked about Reed College in Portland, where I was living. I didn’t know him so I wasn’t nervous; I was as shy with him as I was with everyone else, but not nervous. We both talked about going to Reed. What I meant by going to Reed was, "Visiting my British boyfriend and hanging out with smart people." He meant auditing calligraphy classes. I assumed he was one of the gifted 'rich' kids and he may have assumed the same about me. In actuality we both have very similar economic backgrounds.

I mentioned Evergreen State College in Washington State, from which I graduated. Jobs heard it was an alternative and somewhat creative college, and asked why I went there and if I could tell him more about it. He was interested, but I was a little embarrassed because it wasn't the norm. If I had a ‘voice’ back then, I might have said: "It's a self-creation oriented, entrepreneurial college." But we didn't think in the entrepreneurial way back then, and I had not yet found my voice. I didn't know why I sought out that education at the time, but now I understand it was teaching me how to be the entrepreneur I am today.

Before I came up with a response, a very bright, large, and bejeweled red-haired woman came over and swept Jobs away in grand fashion. Perhaps an investor, she had his arm in a strong grip and said "Stephen! I have so many people I want you to meet!" His hand swung back toward me as he vanished into the distance, growing smaller and smaller. I went back to my lunch. Today I imagine that I just might have caught one of his last fleeting and unstructured moments in time.

Ultimately, I did move to San Francisco, and I was offered a job at Apple within the year. From that singular talk about the future, the course of my life opened to future potentials that I knew were coming. While I ultimately did not take the job at Apple (kick self here) I was hooked on 'the future,' and embraced the computers that appeared within the year or two. I became a self-taught graphic designer using various iterations of the Mac for the next 20 years.

Last week this particular conversation with Jobs entered my awareness. Perhaps sensing what was coming, I began really working it over in my mind. What emerged from this was a heightened awareness of the important role this talk played in my current life some 30 years later.

Today I am a futurist working with and speaking on future trend insights and innovations. I have done work with Apple a few times over the years, and I find it fulfilling to think of life as a full circle. As shy as I was then I could never imagine I would be a speaker today flying around the world, being my funky creative and feminine self in a lineup of suited men. But neither could we imagine Apple quite in the role it has today.

Seeing Steve Jobs on stage in '81 as a wild child charging future forward with no apology in sight did it for me. Without changing or altering himself on stage or in the workplace, Jobs became a 'living example' of the flawed and imperfect perfectionist with a raging desire to overcome what was not ‘getting us there.’ I believed in him all the more because of his natural force, it had a life of its own and he seemed to be riding it like a powerful wave, wherever it took him.

It is truly overwhelming to contemplate how directly meeting Jobs influenced my life today. It was as if the future showed up on that particular day and became the unchallenged path to the here and now. How many others have been ignited in such a way? I think we can honestly say millions upon millions upon millions. Upon millions more—so thank you, Steve Jobs.

[Image: Flickr user loran]