Steve Jobs and the School Crossing Guard

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. 

                               Steve Jobs

No, this isn’t some kind of exposé or anecdote about young Steve Jobs going to school. It’s about the ethic he espoused and lived by: love what you do.

When my kids were young they went to the local elementary school, just two long blocks away from our house. For small kids, though,  two blocks is a long way. And the street at the end they had to cross to get to the school loomed wider for them than it would for you and me. Fortunately, at the crossing, was Anita. No last name — just Anita.

Anita was the school crossing guard. She was middle-aged and motherly in her way, but it wasn’t a cuddly bosomy sentimental way. Anita was trim and brisk and funny. She knew the name of every child who went on foot to that school. For years and years and years. Hundreds and hundreds of kids, she knew every one, and greeted them by name, with a smile. They would kid around, sometimes, and I’m sure occasionally hugs were involved, but I only know this by inference, because my kids had their own relationship with Anita, and I wasn’t part of it.

Being a school crossing guard is not generally considered a high-profile, high-status job. It certainly isn’t a highly paid one. When Anita ultimately retired, it was headline news in the community, there was a huge party for her and an outpouring of love that hadn’t had a way of expression before.  Just as with Steve Jobs — nobody has to ask, Hmmmm, WHAT Steve Jobs? In this smaller, also vital, circle, everybody knew who Anita was. My kids are in their forties now, but you can ask them about Anita. They’ll still light up.

The simple secret, of course, is that Anita loved what she did. She loved kids, she loved connecting with them daily, and she never stopped loving it all.

Does it matter ultimately whether she was headline news or not? Whether she made a gazillion dollars or not? I think Steve Jobs would be the first to maintain that it doesn’t. That for lives to be touched, good to be accomplished, happiness to be achieved by the doer — it is sufficient to love what one does.

Once I was driving on a road and came to the dreaded orange cones of construction ahead and sure enough, suddenly I was inching through a long line of traffic. Up ahead was a construction worker holding the red staff, you know, like the one Moses probably held to cross the Red Sea: on one side it says STOP and on the other it says SLOW. As I got closer I was aware that he wasn’t just standing still, he was moving, moving — And when I got closer still I saw that what he was doing was dancing. He was moving like a toreador, like a ballet dancer,  gracefully, and he had a big grin on his face — probably because he kept seeing astonished faces like mine, faces that would break into a grin that matched his grin,  at least for a moment.

Now that’s not what anybody would call a glamorous job —  But, you know, I remember him to this day, which is easily twenty years ago. As we say, that’s not chopped liver. To impact someone in a positive way, to conjure up delight over twenty years — you have to love what you’re doing. And I know Steve Jobs would be agreeing with me. His own life wasn’t so smooth and easy as it might appear: see this Wikipedia entry especially for his early years. He not only talked the talk (don’t miss his 2005 Stanford commencement address) — he walked the walk.

Thousands of years ago the great Rabbi Hillel asked three momentous questions:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am for myself alone, what am I?

If not now, when?

If that’s a quiz, then Steve Jobs passed with flying colors.

So did Anita. So did that anonymous construction worker. And how about us?

This entry was posted in Challenge, Etcetera, Personal Essay and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Steve Jobs and the School Crossing Guard

  1. Life’s very very boring when you don’t love what you do!


  2. oh yes! these are the people who touch our lives!


  3. Christine Grote says:

    Lovely post and great remembrance of Steve Jobs.

    I love your theme of writing how we touch each other. Excellent.


  4. Stef says:

    It takes chutzpa to live fully according to the last three questions in your post; and the people who do so are treasures by any measure. Here’s to all of the Steve’s AND Anita’s in the world! 🙂 And may every person walk towards that example as they continue in their own lives…


  5. Patti Kuche says:

    A very touching tribute to the fact that no-one is without consequence and to those who take, and give, joy in whatever it is they do!


  6. Kamakshi says:

    What a beautiful interpretation. I have one such face called Tarabai, who used to take care of children in my school when i was in kindergarden I bumped into her after i finished my PG and she was shocked i remembered her name, and stopped by to thank her. She used to clean up after young kids, and never ever lost her cool. that act was so liberating, i cant describe. Thanks for brining back memories…you just made my sunday brighter!


  7. what a thought provoking post. I am so enjoying your blog. I love that you make me think, about the big questions in life. I walked away from my 9-5 job last week. I didn’t enjoy what i was doing. And after the year i’ve had I knew that i didn’t want it – now I’m ready for something that makes me smile.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Well, good for you, M2M!
      That’s a brave thing to do, very much in the Steve Jobs tradition. All the best of luck as you ponder and wait to take the Next Good Step, whatever that turns out to be. And smiling while you wait! 🙂


  8. Pseu says:

    nice ethos, though sadly I don’t think a lot of people have the opportunity to love their job.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      I’d agree with you (a lot of jobs I sure wouldn’t want) but —
      construction sign holder? He made the most of it, maybe that’s another way of saying it. Whatever possibilities there are, go for ’em.
      Have a good day today, Pseu!


  9. Judith- beautiful. Thanks for sharing.


  10. I was thinking about the dreaded construction zone when your comment about Moses came along. A small laugh slipped from me. You are witty. That is one of the many reasons I enjoy reading what you share.
    I can only imagine the productivity this world would find if everyone had the joy of loving their jobs as much as Anita, Steve Jobs and the dancing construction worker did. “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” Confucius


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Confucius was very wise, and so was Steve Jobs —
      Someone was just telling me your same quote yesterday; to hear it twice in two days means it must be listened to!
      But do I think part of what’s unspoken by both of them is our own participation in the joy — our determination to seek and find the joy that’s available, and to remember it when the going gets tough, as the going always will from time to time —
      You are a profound teacher of this on your blog, Tara.


  11. Pauline says:

    A little bit of “If you can’t be with the one you love (or, in this case, can’t be doing what you love), love the one you’re with” eh? Attitude plays such a large part in our endeavors. There is a blessing in every bit of work one does, but if there is no love, the blessing isn’t apparent. I don’t advocate that anyone stay in a job that’s hateful to them, but if one must (and there are those that feel they must), then searching for a way to make the best of it (like that construction sign holder) certainly helps you to let your light shine.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Yes, ultimately that is what it’s about: letting your light shine.
      And one never knows what may come of that effort — because joy comes unexpectedly, by surprise.
      May we all have happy surprises coming our way —


  12. Lafemmeroar says:

    What a wonderful post about LIFE! It’s important to love what you do. So many do not; yet, they go on for their families, to pay their bills–to just survive. Here’s to those who are fortunate enough to dance and to those who have yet to find the beat …


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