Last night after Steve Jobs announced his retirement, I found myself in the rocking chair at 10:30 pm holding a sobbing boy. The Wolvog cried when I told him the news earlier in the evening, but he had bounced back nicely as small children often do since they have minds like squirrels and was soon distracted by the next metaphorical acorn. But after a bath and tuck-in, his twin sister informed us that her brother was making it very difficult to sleep because he was keeping her awake, worried about something.
Image: © Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/ZUMAPRESS.com
I asked him what was wrong and he first gave me this long story about an invention that went wrong at his fictional computer company (many children have imaginary friends; my child not only has an imaginary friend, but he has an imaginary company, imaginary planet divided into imaginary countries, and two imaginary baseball teams -- a minor and major league alternative). He cried hard over the imaginary botched invention and wasn't placated when I offered to raise some imaginary capital so his imaginary employees could work on the imaginary invention again.
Finally, I asked him if this was about something else; a stand-in issue holding the spot of something truly upsetting him, and the tears started choking all the oxygen out of his throat and he sobbed until he couldn't breathe over the idea that Steve Jobs would no longer be the CEO. I think it was partly about Steve himself -- a fear of how Apple will change -- and it was partly about the Wolvog as the CEO of an imaginary company.
The Wolvog was standing right at the mental edge, thinking about himself one day leaving his post as CEO of the imaginary company and it was terrifying to think of himself floating jobless without his company to anchor him. The Wolvog couldn't imagine himself without his imaginary company, and he transferred that to Steve leaving his real company. I think most of us both covet and fear retirement simultaneously. We want to think that we are vital, that the world will stop spinning without us. But I think even the Wolvog sensed in that moment that he could stop thinking about his imaginary company, let it float into the ether like an unmoored balloon until it was no longer visible, and the world would still continue. And that is a terrifying thought: that the world can give or take on your creation; on your position. It makes one feel wholly insignificant; a hard thought to swallow.
I took him into the rocking chair and explained how boards worked, and how Steve Jobs would still be involved with the board. We talked about reasons why people would want to retire and how a company is more than just one person. That Apple would still continue and if he feared that, I would happily take him to the store tomorrow where employees will inform him that they will still eagerly take our money for years to come. I will still go forward with the plan to upgrade my iPod and pass along my old one to him.
The reality is that Steve Jobs is his idol. The email Steve Jobs sent my son earlier this year means the world to him, and it is currently being framed to go in his new room this week (along with a letter he received from his other idol, President Obama. Seriously, the kid is in first grade and he has had more cool things happen to him than I have at 37).
Steve Jobs is a magician to the Wolvog; he's his Albus Dumbledore. And just as Hogwarts students couldn't imagine the world without Dumbledore, the Wolvog is incapable of imagining Apple without Steve.
And yet, as adults, we know that while the world was different, magic still continued after Dumbledore. Dumbledore's parting didn't suck all the magic out of the world. Magic will still continue after Harry Potter too. It will exist after JK Rowling stops writing about Harry Potter. Those people are just the receptacles of something amazing. But that wonder still exists even without a receptacle to make it feel tangible.
Retirements are bittersweet and change is always difficult. I am sure Steve Jobs feels similarly -- that mixture of fear and sadness that is coursing through the Wolvog's body at this moment. But Steve is also privy to a whole host of other emotions: perhaps relief, excitement, peace, frustration, anger. I can't imagine what it would be like to build something that touches so many people and then come to the point where you need to step away from it. I don't know how you ever say goodbye.
And, of course, he won't truly say goodbye. He will remain chairman of the board. The seeds of ideas he planted in the company will continue to grow. His mere presence on earth will continue to inspire a little boy in Maryland to grow up and make his imaginary company a reality.
And in the meantime, will I please just update my iPod already so he can have my old one?
I finally told the Wolvog that he had to go to sleep after a long cuddle in the rocking chair, and I walked him back to bed. I can't really explain how his tiny face looked against his sleeping bag (we still haven't gotten his new bed). I hope I get to think about that expression on his face twenty years from now as I sit and listen to him hold a press conference about his own computer company. I will still be thanking Steve Jobs when that happens. Because without dreamers like him today, there would be no inspiration for the dreamers of tomorrow.
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