Published October 06, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: When Lucas Haley wrote his first letter to Steve Jobs in the summer of 1996, he was an unemployed college grad. 15 years later, he's the owner of Animatology Studios in Portland, Ore.
“Hi. This is Steve Jobs.”
Those are five words no one expects to hear from their telephone. You can imagine my surprise when those words came across the line. Here's my story.
Like many people, out of college I wasn't sure what I wanted -- or more specifically, how to get where I wanted to be. This was a "pre-i" world: no iMac, no iTunes, no iPhone. Gil Amelio was CEO of Apple, a company producing beige boxes and stock value losses. And Steve Jobs was quietly heading companies that would soon define their industries: NeXT (soon to be Apple OS X), and Pixar.
He was a bit of a hero of mine.
So I wrote a letter.
Sure, email existed at the time, but a letter seemed more real. I wrote about how I grew up with a Mac Plus, about my experience at our alma mater Reed College, and about my hopes for my life.
I explained that I knew he wasn't going to give me my magical dream job, or any job for that matter. But I wanted to let him know that he was an example to me of how to live one's life -- to take chances, work hard, and never compromise on yourself.
After dropping the letter in the mailbox, I promptly forgot about it, never thinking it would ever get past the gates.
Several months later, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I got a call. It went exactly like this:
“Hello. May I speak with Lucas Haley?”
“Hi. This is Steve Jobs.”
At this point I was ready to call bull on whichever friend was prank calling me. I barely caught myself in time, remembering that I hadn't told anyone about the letter. This couldn't be anyone but Steve Jobs.
The sudden realization strengthened my suspicion that I hadn't said anything in an awkwardly long time, and I blurted out a weak “Can ... can I help you?”
Steve Jobs and I spoke on the phone that afternoon for over 20 minutes, about college, about work, about chasing dreams, and about how he couldn't give me a job but here's the name of someone who could. It was all very surreal, and immediately upon hanging up it felt like it couldn't have happened.
I've thought about that phone call many times since then, for many different reasons. When the news of his cancer broke, I wrote another letter wishing him well; this time I wrote from a different perspective, having a family, a career, and new dreams.
And when I heard he had passed, it really made me think. In this day and age, when CEOs are vilified -- often rightfully so -- for corporate greed, shady dealings, and backhanded politics, there remained at least one captain of enterprise who took the time to call a young, underemployed pup ... just because he had written a letter.
For me, the world is a smaller place without Steve Jobs. He was a leader who fought for the best, not the most.