Monday, October 24, 2011

Steve Jobs: Chosen, Special

The L.A. Times publishes excerpts from the 60 Minutes transcript of an interview with Walter Isaacson, whose Steve Jobs biography comes out today;  here are some bits about Jobs' adoption:
WALTER ISAACSON: He was very petulant. He was very brittle. He could be very, very mean to people at times. Whether it was to a waitress in a restaurant, or to a guy who had stayed up all night coding, he could just really just go at them and say, "You're doin' this all wrong. It's horrible." And you'd say, "Why did you do that? Why weren't you nicer?" And he'd say I really want to be with people who demand perfection. And this is who I am."

ISAACSON BELIEVES THAT MUCH OF IT CAN BE TRACED TO THE EARLIEST YEARS OF HIS LIFE, AND TO THE TO THE FACT THAT JOBS BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK, GIVEN UP BY HIS BIRTH PARENTS, AND ADOPTED BY A WORKING CLASS COUPLE FROM MOUNTAIN VIEW, FROM MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA.

* * *

JOBS ALWAYS KNEW HE WAS ADOPTED, BUT IT STILL HAD A PROFOUND EFFECT ON HIM. HE TOLD ISAACSON THIS STORY FROM HIS EARLY CHILDHOOD DURING ONE OF THEIR MANY TAPED INTERVIEWS:

STEVE JOBS TAPES: I was, I remember right here on my lawn, telling Lisa McMoylar from across the street that I was adopted. And she said, “So does that mean your real parents didn't want you?” Ooooh, lightning bolts went off in my head. I remember running into the house, I think I was like crying, asking my parents. And they sat me down and they said, “No, you don't understand. We specifically picked you out.”

WALTER ISAACSON: He said, "From then on, I realized that I was not — just abandoned. I was chosen. I was special." And I think that's the key to understanding Steve Jobs.
Today's advice to adoptive parents is to avoid that "chosen child/you're special" meme -- children told they are "special" and that that specialness led to their being "chosen" can worry that if they aren't perfect they might be un-chosen, that if their parents discover they aren't "special" after all they'll be abandoned again.

Some might argue that, given Jobs' obvious genius and success, telling him he was special and chosen worked wonders. But I see his striving for perfection, his "meanness," as growing out of a fear that he will be abandoned again unless he is continually "special."

Yes, the world benefitted from Jobs' belief in his own specialness. But did Jobs?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

interesting. as a more recent adoptive parent i've been reading all the books and following all the latest advice. having discussions, discussing loss, avoiding the 'lucky' or chosen issues, etc. but i have to say i'm starting to wonder about some of it. i mean, if adoptive kids find peace with learning they are 'chosen' or meant to be with the adoptive parent then maybe it's the right thing. do we really know what is right? do we really think the same approach can be for all adopted kids? for steve it might have been the right thing to do. he obviously felt so (we can assume his drive, etc is based on that one discussion with his mom!) can't we have honest answers and touch on the fact that the child and parents were 'chosen' for each other? i have to say, being honest with the kids is the only way to handle it but i'm starting to question all the touchy feely advice of some people out there. i'm giving my child the full story as far as i know it to be and then i'm probably going to make her feel special if she needs that as she commences school and bullying.

theadoptedones said...

The need to be perfect so as to not be given away again, i.e. rejected, can in my opinion be increased if you were fed the chosen meme...

Honesty is the best policy.

Did you really choose that specific child? Was their a row of cribs you walked down and found your child?

Meant to be can also take you down a rabbit hole you most likely do not want to go down, by following the cause and effect on many of that statement.

Even if your child finds peace with something told to them as a child - when that child grows up and understands the reality do you think that won't impact him? Maturity makes stories just that - stories designed by others.

Some, perhaps even many, adoptees do not fully delve into the full reality of being an adoptee until middle age. Some get there sooner - others later - when they have the maturity and life experiences to allow them to look into something deeply.

At the end of the day being adopted is something you have to deal with for life - how much it affects someone is unique to them. The core of being adopted is that for it to have happened, you were at the most basic level rejected - regardless of the reason or who actually did the rejection or what influenced the outcome.

Pretty words can't conceal that.

Adoption isn't pretty - a lot of life isn't pretty.

Anonymous said...

Melinda- This is a question only Jobs could answer. I would say, though, that HE would say, "YES" That he did indeed benefit from his belief that he was special. Perhaps others around him did or did not....But I certainly believe that HE believed it. Again though, only he could answer that question. I think you are searching for something to talk about on your blog, and for that, I admire your efforts..But, you're reaching pretty hard here.
As a 50 year old woman, I can say that I would love it if someone in my life would have constantly thought I was chosen and special. My grandmother favored me over all of her grandkids, I didn't know why, but she saw me as the "golden child", even amongst my siblings. I did not appreciate it when I was younger as much as I did when I was older. I could do no wrong in her eyes. I was the chosen grandchild. I was perfect. I actually miss that about her as she has been gone for a few years now. I dont honestly think that Jobs would say today that he did not benefit from thinking he was chosen.

theadoptedones- IMO, most of the time, thinking the child is chosen is referring to being chosen by a higher power or powers at work. But we've already gone around in circles about this concept.. I really don't want to rehash it.

theadoptedones said...

You might not want to rehash it - that's fine. But when Jobs was adopted the Chosen Child meme was exactly how I explained it. Adoption agencies even provided the AP's with the book that explained just that for the child. In 1965 that book was revised to take out the Chosen Baby meme...

I think it is very relevant seeing as the post is about an adoptee adopted in 1955...

http://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/archive/WassonTCB.htm

Anonymous said...

I find this somewhat baffling.

From the same blogger and group of Adult Adoptees who would rail against the notion that an adopted child's success must ONLY come from the adoptive family environment (their love, their contributions/upbringing), comes the notion that any flaws then must also be attibuted to said child at the hands of the adoptive parents/family?

Even when by all accounts it would seem that "flaw" led to a successful person?

Hmm...how about this? Both genetics and environment play a huge role and making sweeping statements attributing one's nature to JUST their nuture or JUST their biology is fallacy.

Pure and simple.

The only person who could answer these baseless questions is gone.

Why not let him rest in peace, even while other media sources continue to squeeze a bit more out of the headline?

IMOP

Anonymous said...

I find this somewhat baffling.

From the same blogger and group of Adult Adoptees who would rail against the notion that an adopted child's success must ONLY come from the adoptive family environment (their love, their contributions/upbringing), comes the notion that any flaws then must also be attibuted to said child at the hands of the adoptive parents/family?

Even when by all accounts it would seem that "flaw" led to a successful person?

Hmm...how about this? Both genetics and environment play a huge role and making sweeping statements attributing one's nature to JUST their nuture or JUST their biology is fallacy.

Pure and simple.

The only person who could answer these baseless questions is gone.

Why not let him rest in peace, even while other media sources continue to squeeze a bit more out of the headline?

IMOP

Anonymous said...

I'm an adoptive mother who has chosen not go with the "you were special" and "we chose YOU" route. I have no intent on changing that route. We believe in honesty with our child and will continue along that path regardless of what anyone else recommends.

I was offended to read your question of, "Yes, the world benefitted from Jobs' belief in his own specialness. But did Jobs?" To me, this completely smacks of FOX News' use of the question mark to tell people who they ought to feel about a story. I also find it arrogant of you to write as if you, and you alone, know what is best for Steve Jobs. He obviously approved of the label, so who are YOU to question that? He's the adoptee. He's the one who lived it. He's the one gave the interview and his opinion on the label applied to him. He's arguably one of the most successful men on his generation, yet you still choose to question his parents' decision to use that label? Seriously.

Here is what I think: yes, we're charting new territories for adoption language and how to communicate with our children and what has worked and not worked in the past. Yes, we should debate those things. Yes, we should consider all points. Yes, I probably agree with your line of thinking on quite a few subjects related to adoption. But a word of warning: I, like many other readers, are repelled by arrogance.

Finally, on the subject of your speculation that his perfectionism came from something his adoptive parents said to him, it's possible. In my own experience, as a non-adoptee with parents who were nothing but supportive and kind to her, I would like an explanation as to where my perfection then came from. I suspect it's just who I am. Not everything gets boiled down so simply to one statement to a child.

Robin said...

@Anon 9:00,
I am an adult adoptee and I don't think it is possible to know exactly how an adoptee will respond to any given approach. I do know, however, that for many adoptees being adopted is a hard row to hoe. And this is to a greater or lesser degree depending on the individual.

The best thing you can do is to listen to your child. Hear what she is telling you and how she feels about adoption. Don't dismiss her feelings or tell her she is wrong for not feeling the way you want her to or for thinking about adoption in a different way than you would like. This is one of the most loving things you can do for her. You will not be able to eliminate her pain but you can, by being supportive, help her to deal with it.

Anonymous said...

There's another blogger out there who suggests that the "chosen, special" story (as told to the child Jobs by his a-parents to assuage abandonment issues) caused him to choose "alternative therapy" over conventional cancer therapy.
The blogger's proposition is that this sense of "specialness" conferred on Jobs by his a-parents caused him to believe that he was "not subject to the ordinary rules of biology", and it cost him his life.

What do you and your readers think?

Anonymous said...

LMAO

Me thinks someone has been sniffing too much glue!

Really?

Well why not also blame illegal immigration, poverty, the recession and the flagging economy on AP's too??

Geesh....

Anonymous said...

I don't blame his aparents for any of this.
I blame the situation that led his first mother to relinquish him.
His aparents told him he was special to try to erase the fact that he was "unwanted" by his first family.
Being abandoned sucks.
I would want to sugarcoat it too.

And Jobs may have been successful but he was a cruel, cold and unhappy man.

Mei-Ling said...

Hasn't the topic of Jobs' adoption been rehashed enough?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Robin, who echoes what I've heard in direct conversation from many adult adoptees on the chosen child/special topic--let your child be your guide. I didn't realize how many adoptees I knew until we adopted and they have been roughly split 50/50 on the topic, with many stating that they loved being told that they were chosen and it gave them great comfort while the other side did feel some of that pressure. As a bio child who was told I was "special and long-awaited" I mostly liked that myself, but would totally get it if my children feel differently. Different kids--different needs.

I think the best advice I received was that you should be as honest as possible with your child and make sure that what you are saying are consistent with what you believe. If you believe that fate/destiny/divine intervention/etc. brings people together, then say so, but don't make up a fairy tale because you think it sounds better and be sensitive to what your child believes.

I also agree with one of the posters above who noted that there are a wide number of influences on our personalities. One thing to consider with Mr. Jobs is that any of the aspects of his personality, positive or negative, may have just as much to do with biology as his environment. Portraits of his biological father, including direct quotes, also portray a bright but difficult and flawed man. This caused me to certainly think about the old nature vs. nurture thing again.

Bottom line is that I think it is good to remember that we are all individuals and our personalities are somewhat like a kaleidoscope--the same ingredients can often make for very different pictures depending on light and perspective.

And thanks for a thought-provoking question, Melinda. (Note to previous poster: Questions asked like this are not designed to lead you, but make you think about your opinion.)

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