Steve Jobs and the Internal Editor

Oct 182011
 

I’m still mourning the death of Steve Jobs, a brilliant man who changed my life with beautifully-designed, practical products. But I’ve also been reading about the type of boss he was: bullying. Just like my own critical voice.

In the late 1980′s, I was working on a cover story for the NeXT machine, one of Job’s rare flops. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, main feature writer, and I (the executive editor) spent an afternoon interviewing Jobs about his new machine and his strategy.

I found it nerve-wracking to be around the guy. He had piercing eyes that bore into me, unblinking. He seemed to be thinking, “You are an idiot” whenever I spoke. I was simultaneously thrilled to be in his presence but couldn’t wait to get away.

Towards the end of our meeting, I suggested he appear on the cover. He scoffed and criticized me for coming up with such a boring idea. So I proposed that to make it more exciting, he appear nude, with the machine strategically placed. He didn’t even smile.

Reading about what he was like as a boss made me think about the internal editor writers have, the one that criticizes us and tells us our writing will never be good enough. Combating the internal editor comes up all the time in my work as a coach. Just last week, I convinced a blogger to write out a list of affirmations to counter the negative thoughts that keep her from finishing a book proposal. I talked a chef into creating a draft of the document a publisher asked for a month ago. And I joked with another writer about how I didn’t want her to “go to bed for three days” after I assessed her work.

Like me, all three of these women are self-employed. It’s been a good career decision for me for the last 16 years. I suppose I’m soft, I’m sensitive, and all the other things you can say about creative types, but I was not at my best while working for bosses who put me down. When you have your own negative self-talk, you don’t need more from the person you look to for approval.

Some of my memories of critical bosses surfaced when Jobs died. I even found Apple’s corporate web page of all the middle-aged white guys who reported to him, I wondered how they brushed off Job’s nastiness.

In the tributes that poured out after Jobs’ death, many people quoted from a speech he gave:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma ’97 which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Exactly. I am working on what I think is worthwhile, outside the influence of bosses like him. They do not get to judge me. I am following my heart and intuition. And doing so makes me happy.

The world has lost Steve Jobs, a man of superior design sense, productivity, passion and determination. It’s too much to hope that I will someday lose my internal editor. At least today, if anyone is telling me I don’t measure up, it’s just me. And most of the time, I can brush the thought away.

  60 Responses to “Steve Jobs and the Internal Editor”

  1. Intuition is an amazing wonderful thing. It is critically important when writing and self editing. Intuition is one of my best editors, Dianne. I listen to her and consult her daily. She often talks back but has never let me down!!! Missy Trainer

    • Learning to trust your intuition is priceless, Melissa. I get better at that over the years. Hmm. Intuition talking back? Not the inner critic, I hope.

  2. I’m always looking for and hoping to find a boss who is both brilliant and compassionate. I’m sure he or she is out there somewhere. In the meantime, the “Jobs-like” bosses haunt me at every turn!

  3. I hear the critical voice in my head morning, noon and at night. it I have to learn (better) when to trust it and know it is right, and when to silence it because it can keep me from just writing .. . . and editing out the rubbish later. How cool you got to meet Steve Jobs. Thanks for sharing this story Dianne.

    • Yes, it’s always going to be there. The issue is managing it. It sounds like you are doing well on that front!

      I did feel fortunate to meet the man. I think he was the most famous person I met at that magazine job.

  4. Love this post. It comes at the right time when I am constantly at war with myself about not being good enough. Somehow, over time I have come to believe that others’ opinions of my work and me don’t affect me as much as self bashing does.

    • Thank you, Anita. Yes, even though approval from others is so important, it still wipe out the bashing. So we keep working on it. It’s definitely a struggle.

  5. Great post, Dianne! I still have this Time issue waiting for me. I wonder if Jobs was actually a nice person beyond the nasty boss facade. A friend was just talking about how her high school English teacher who always made nasty comments on her essays may have been the impetus for her to become a successful writer. Maybe it’s tough love? Maybe that’s the difference between male and female leadership? Maybe that’s what it takes to make a great impact and develop great products? But like you, I couldn’t stand to be in the shadow of such a domineering boss (I have my own inner critic to deal with already!). BTW, I love your suggestion about the nude portrait with the machine :). I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.

    • Hah! Thank you, Pat. Apparently it is the sixth time he appeared on the cover of Time. Pretty amazing for a life cut so short.

      I’m sure he was a nice person too. I’ve heard and read that he was a devoted dad. I guess the answer is that people are complicated, and they’re not all or nothing.

      I don’t know that you have to be that kind of person to be a leader. I hope the answer is no.

      That’s interesting about the nasty comments being the impetus for your friend’s success. It’s the “I’ll show him” kind of response. It sounds very healthy to me.

  6. This post seems to have landed in my inbox at precisely the right moment. I’m taking those first small steps, which require bypassing internal and external critics alike! I love the bit about telling the writer she’s not allowed to go to bed for three days after you assess her work – ahhhh, I know that feeling of wanting to dive beneath the covers. Thank you for the reminder to let judgement fall to the wayside, to be steadfast in following my heart and intuition.

    • It was a reminder from Steve Jobs too! Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

      You are most welcome, Sarah. You just keep moving forward, one step at a time.

  7. Thank you for this perspective on Steve Jobs. I really appreciate this passage from your article:

    I suppose I’m soft, I’m sensitive, and all the other things you can say about creative types, but I was not at my best while working for bosses who put me down. When you have your own negative self-talk, you don’t need more from the person you look to for approval

    This depicts perfectly my situation now!

    • Oh so sorry to hear that you are in that situation, Juls. I hope you can calm the negative thoughts to deal with that person more effectively. I was so mad at myself for not being good at it.

      • Thank you for your words, Dianne. My situation will end up in 2 months, then I will have to face ‘just’ my internal editor.. a new challenge to face!

  8. Hi Dianne,
    What an excellent blog. I think so many ‘bosses’ whether they be teachers, spouses or family members, are just that – bosses. Often they lack something in their own life, and are only empowered by asserting themselves over another, seemingly inferior. Important for us to remember that it’s not about us, but rather the other. Wish I’d known this when I was younger!

    • Me too! That’s the best part about getting older, isn’t it? Figuring out what we should’ve figured out decades earlier. At least we’re getting to it now.

      Re bosses, I think that’s true. I was a boss for a few decades and I enjoyed it. I liked the feeling of power and I was not too clear on the fact that people were sucking up to me. I realized it when I became newly self-employed. I went to a meeting and no one laughed at my jokes. The difference was palpable.

    • Becky I agree with your thoughts completely and know quite a few people like that. The important thing is to know who you are and believe in yourself regardless of what others may say or how they might treat you.

  9. It’s hard to go to bed sometimes thinking, “all your work today was crap.” And sometimes – well – it is. But sometimes there’s a turn of a phrase worth saving and other times it leads to something much better. There’s a saying in my field to allow yourself that “crappy (paraphrasing)” first draft.” I wonder if female writers struggle more with this than male writers.

    • Maybe we female writers are better at admitting it. And you might be quoting from Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird, who said we have to allow ourselves a “shitty first draft.”

      • Am indeed quoting the grand Ms. Lamott – just keeping it “clean.” A by-product of writing for the young. Lamott has pulled me out of a few writing holes. And yes, there is a possibility that we are more introspective about our writing than males. Would be an interesting study.

  10. Dianne, Loved this story. Being your own boss is hard, being a nice boss to yourself is even harder if you have that mean internal editor. Always good to be reminded to be a good boss to yourself. There must be a mantra for that….

    I also wonder, given his reputation as a boss, how self critical Steve Jobs might have been. Certainly his advice to avoid the trap of other people’s thinking is sound. Always a balancing act!

    • Thank you Sally. Yes I’m sure there are mantras for being kind to yourself. Just recognizing when you are not being kind to yourself is a big step forward.

      Another thing I told a client last week was from a Buddhist book I read that said that “suffering is optional.” That idea made a big impact on me.

      That is a good question about whether Jobs was as self-critical with himself. Maybe not. It could have been crippling, in his case!

  11. Really good post and thank you for reminding us about that side of Jobs.

    I’ve worked directly for and reported to the owner of a large Nationally known coproration and have experienced the wrath of management by fear and humiliation. As much as you try to ignore it with the “it’s not about me” theory, it can be quite unnerving and stressful, “Thick skinned” should not have to be our mantra.

    • Thanks. Definitely, I remember being unnerved and stressed out at my jobs where I had those kinds of bosses. “It’s not about me” is a good response. I was always amazed by the other managers who worked for my boss, that they did not seem to be having as much trouble as I did. They must have had thicker skin. We could use more of that.

  12. Wonderful, thoughtful and brilliantly honest post. One wonders if men like Jobs (the men somehow get away with this kind of behavior more easily than women, don’t they?) act like this because they are afraid to look inside of themselves or because they are just so darn sure of their own brilliance? (and it sounds like he had very little sense of humor). But it is wonderful that you come away from that experience with a positive view of yourself, or a positive position rather than taking it to heart and beating yourself down. I face my own devil every single day, all day and when someone says something negative it can drag me down for days. But ever so slowly over the past year or so I have allowed myself some room for the positive and am learning to focus on everything I have going for me, finally admitting my talents alongside my acknowledgment of my weaknesses. I watch others but now judge myself against myself and my path is guided by my own happiness. I also find that it is really important for me, my creativity and my self-confidence to surround myself with good friends whose work I totally respect and who I can count on to give me honest feedback all the while encouraging and supporting me. (you have done a lot of that for me whether you realize it or not!) Truly a great post. Thank you, Dianne.

    • Oh Jamie, thank you for such a thoughtful response. I don’t know what made Jobs so sure of himself, but without that inner guiding force, we wouldn’t have the products we enjoy today. I marvel at his self-confidence and single-mindedness. I’m sure it drove others crazy but when you see the result, you know it was worthwhile.

      Like you, I have a positive view of myself some days, and on other days, I compare myself and think I’m crap. Often it changes hour to hour! But I have come to a certain level of acceptance that I’ve done all right, and maybe that comes with age. Also, once you’ve been at it for a while, you get more relaxed and confident. These days you’re speaking at conferences around the world, so that must mean you’ve done something right, eh?

  13. You may not realize this, Dianne, but in a way you’re lucky to have that internal editor. I came to writing via journalism school, where the supremacy of the deadline is emphasized. So at a certain point in my writing I just say a project is done and go with what I have. I’d probably be a better writer if I had that little internal Steve Jobs………

    • I came the same way, through journalism school — twice actually, once in Canada and once here in the US. Deadlines were good for letting go of things and moving on to the next project, I agree. My blog serves that purpose for me now. I have to let go of what I’m writing on Tuesday night and post the damned thing. This one took a lot of rewriting.

  14. As a young mother, I learned to listen to and trust my “mama-gut”. That was the name I gave to intuition and instincts regarding the care and raising of my children. As my children grew, I began to appreciate my mama-gut for intuition about life in general. We all have a mama-gut regardless of whether we have children. Believe in yourself, eliminated the negative self-talk and your mama-gut will become a source of strength and comfort. I realize this is a tall order and it’s not going to be accomplished without introspection and self-examination. You’ve got to do a lot of “heart” work which is hard work. You’ll go through boxes and boxes of kleenex but the end result is worth it. Examination of faith, values and priorities is necessary for an overall sense of well-being.

    My children are grown now but I still listen to my mama-gut. I’ve taught my daughter, the mother of my grandchildren, how to identify and trust her mama-gut. Dianne, my mama-gut always likes what you have to say.

    Regarding Steve Jobs, his phenomenal success has always been of great interest to me since he violated almost every single rule of people management. He wasn’t an easy person to like on a personal level yet he was loved by bajillions of people who never knew him. Such an interesting dichotomy. I wonder if he was listening to his mama-gut.

  15. Oh, how that link to Apple’s white-dudes-who-reported-to-Jobs page cracked me up. Then it made me a bit angry.

  16. It was almost seven years ago that I left my profession as a psychotherapist. It has taken me a long time to find my voice and recognize my vision for the rest of my life. Your post helps and also offers the gentle pat on my back that I needed today. Thanks.

  17. I absolutely love your description of your interview with him. Hilarious! You have no idea how many times I feel as if people are looking at me saying the exact same thing. But, I try to live by some of Steve Jobs’ famous words especially the ever-popular “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” It gives me comfort to at least know I have the foolish part nailed. I don’t believe I’ll ever lose my internal editor, but I like to think she serves a pretty useful purpose some days (however harsh and neurotic she can be). Great post, Dianne!

  18. Very insightful and beautifully articulated connection. You have the skill to do that, and don’t ever doubt it!

    • Thanks Rosemary. I was worried this wouldn’t connect with people, but I see that it does. Thanks for saying so.

  19. I’m smiling after reading this. You have been so helpful in quieting my negative inner critic. The one that says “who would care about what you have to share”, or “what can you possibly write that has not already been done”, or “you are no one”. Me, the classic Type A over achiever suddenly having a bout with confidence and purpose. Thank you! I am now on track, writing along, with more clarity and excitement. It’s beginning to take shape. No one said it would be easy, and we certainly can’t do this alone. When we read the forewords of books, many people are mentioned and thanked for the support. I am just beginning to understand why – it takes a village!

    • Thanks Sally. You are used to being an overachiever in other fields, and now you have jumped into a field that’s new to you. So this is something you don’t know (writing a cookbook), and that is stressful. We control freak types have trouble with not being the masters of our domain. But you are persevering, and you will do well. And I’m glad to help.

  20. Great post. And wow – not a single female or nonwhite person in the Apple executive team? Lovely.

  21. So jealous that you actually got to meet Steve Jobs. But I hear you on the critical bosses — that never worked well for me either.

    Love that cover!

    • Yeah, I was very lucky. That was a one-time deal. I haven’t met anyone that famous since.

      The photo is of the cover of Time magazine, not the cover of the magazine where I worked at the time (in case anyone is confused). Don’t you think Jobs would’ve looked good in the nude? He was such a good-looking guy.

  22. It’s a revelation and huge consolation to read this post. You’ve struck such a chord with me. I too have worked for myself for the last 16 years and look back on some of the jobs I’ve had with absolute terror; when I left one company in particular, my self-esteem was at an all time low. You’ve explained exactly why this happens and I am so reassured to hear that it’s not just me. Thank you Dianne – I’m in your debt.

    • Thanks Sally. It DEFINITELY is not just you. when I quit my last job 16 years ago, I think it took me 2 years to recover from working for a rageaholic bully. I would try to sell myself and I couldn’t come up with anything positive to say. Now I think: Amazing to let someone else have so much power over me.

  23. this is the first article in print that has mentioned the true personality of Jobs. He is being deified in the press now. If I mention this side of him to any computer people, none of whom ever met him of course, they dont want to believe it. Highly brilliant, creative people are most often the most difficult to get along with. Jobs was a classic corporate mind who used people, but he did turn Apple around when it was in trouble.

    I had tough bosses from the beginning of my working life which began at 14. Not getting acknowledged for my work by superiors developed my own sense of being my own boss, the sense of right and wrong, my own barometer for doing a good job. By my late 20s, I was able to sustain this internal ability in all my endeavors..restaurant work, catering, wedding cake biz, teaching, writing.

    the human being is selfish by nature. It is part of the biological need for survival. Luckily for humanity there are some humans who have transcended this selfishness, leading the way to a higher consciousness overall.

    • I’m all for higher consciousness, Beth. It’s a lifelong learning process.

      Re Jobs’ true personality, it was a side of him, not all of him. If you read the link to the New York Times article I referenced in the post, you’ll see a whole feature story on his tyranny and bullying. It’s so typical, as you say, that the dead become sainted. One more thing you can say about Jobs, is that brilliant creative people aren’t necessarily good business people, but he had that gift as well.

      It sounds like you had a good sense of self-worth from the get go, and you were able to get past not getting acknowledged.

  24. A truly moving article with the perfect balance of lucidity and compassion. Thanks for sharing this, Dianne.

  25. I was brought up as a good catholic girl (a handicap I’ve manged to largely overcome) and so my internal editor hovers ever-ready to inject a good dose of doubt and/or guilt on a daily basis. It does tend to make me more cautious than I might otherwise be, but I try not to let it undermine me too much.
    Steve Jobs changed so very much in my life and for that I am grateful. It wasn’t until I got my first Apple comp that I really embraced the technology that has given me a career of sorts. All the same, it is a shame to find out he was not as pleasant as he could have been.

    • Doubt and guilt! Those are mainstays of Catholics and Jews (me in the latter category). We have that in common.

      I used to be in high tech, married a high tech guy who used to work at Apple (during the no-Jobs period), and still have friends in that field, so Job’s presence was always larger than life. I’d hate to count how many Apple products there are in our house. I think it’s over 20.

  26. Thanks for another great post, Dianne. Those negative thoughts have a pesky way of sneaking in through the back door even when it’s locked, huh?

  27. I’ve been unemployed for 2 1/2 years and, finally, decided to simply go for it as a freelancer rather than seek another job as an employee. It was a difficult and terrifying decision. But, I spent nearly two decades in a long string of jobs, almost none of which were carried out under anything approaching a civilized, humane workplace. Newspapers were the worst. I cannot imagine why people would, ever, tolerate, as individuals or as a group, workplaces where every single day is spent among critical, judgmental, abusive, incompetent, abusive, just plain mean bosses and co-workers. And, the worst part, for no good purpose. Every study of every society in the world shows that cooperative, well-managed societies are the most productive. Misery does NOT pay off, in any way. Every word, every thought, in your piece resonated with me. It makes sense. I am glad to have my decision affirmed. Thank you. I’m glad there are many people, like us, who are, I like to think, reasonable and sane and won’t put up with the punishment. Why? Why should anyone? And now, I must get to work. There’s nobody but me making it happen. Yes.

    • Hah. Kathy, we have been in the same shoes. Most of my bosses in publishing were mean, underhanded, bullies, rageaholics, etc. The ones who weren’t were exceptions. Maybe it’s something about the field? But now you will have no one putting you down except yourself, and that you can control! Best of luck in your new career as a freelancer.

  28. Nothing wrong with self-criticism, since it makes you a better writer (or whatever it is you do). Just don’t tie the criticism to your self-worth. And shouldn’t your inner critic tell you that criticism-induced paralysis is no good, either?

  29. “When you have your own negative self-talk, you don’t need more from the person you look to for approval.” That sums it up perfectly for me. And as for the board of middle-aged white guys (great link!), perhaps they were simply the kind of people Jobs felt comfortable being surrounded by. He probably had issues dealing with women in a business setting – quite common in ‘alpha male’ businessmen.

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