Am I a Bad Person Because I Don’t Worship Steve Jobs?

Also, am I going to fail because I don’t have an idol?

I was walking out of the lobby of my workplace today, when I spotted a copy of the latest Inc Magazine on the table between the two visitors’ waiting chairs. In big bold letters, the magazine yelled at me: “The Next Steve Jobs”. I paused, thought for a second about what exactly that meant to me, and left work to drive home.

I paused because this was not the first time I’ve seen a nod to the cult of Steve Jobs emblazoned on some print media, or at the top of a blog post (or a Medium post for that matter). Similar cult status seems to drape around the neck of Elon Musk as well. Both gentlemen’s names are the subject matter of numerous articles, headlines, and stories — all seeming to lead us to believe that these men are the pinnacle of achievement. This makes me uncomfortable.

Perhaps it is the residual of my long steeping time in the hot waters of radical politics, and my liberal arts pedigree. Maybe it’s my tendency to be generally skeptical of high praise (even of myself). Whatever the reason, I just get irked at how often names like Jobs and Musk are thrown at me and my generation in a certain way. I just really get irked by it.

Here’s what I think it is: it’s idolatry, and I am angry because I thought that we millennials had killed idolatry. Every other generation had its idols: Carnegie, Patton, John Paul II, Kurt Cobain. As I grew up, I thought our generation was different. I thought that the one good thing we took from the mess that is postmodernist thought was that idols are for suckers. Kill your darlings! and such. But alas, here I stand, having just turned the corner of my thirties, and here I’m being served up the exact idolatry that I thought I had helped to out-and-out refused.

But as I remember something, I begin to smirk…just a little.

You see, this is nothing to be afraid of. This is just the previous two generations’ death rattle as they attempt — for one last time — to do what parents and older siblings do best: point out how well so-and-so across the street is doing; we should be more like him (or her). I was irked in the lobby because I felt that familiar tinge of revolt as my parents (embodied by Inc Magazine) told me about some other person who was on their way to being another idol, up in the hall of heroes that I thought I had vandalized past restoration. But I can take comfort in knowing that it’s just old age and the realization of mortality taking hold. As the boomers and the Xers begin to age out of relevance in the business world, they’re throwing their weight around again, making a show of their idols, and worse, their practice of idol worship.

I hope that I don’t have to tell my fellow millennials that we will have none of this.

Steve Jobs did very well and built a strong company. Elon Musk is doing well, and is building multiple strong companies. But we do not need to build a makeshift cult around these men. They were men — men we can learn from — but men nonetheless. Speaking of learning, here’s the one thing we can very quickly learn from both of them; the business world still isn’t very friendly for women and people of color. So there’s that.

So, Boomers, Xers, I don’t want your idols thrown in my face. I don’t buy into the concept; never have, never will. Furthermore, our generation was built upon the rejection of the concept of idols. You can keep writing what you’re writing, but please know, it will be taken with a grain of salt.

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”:

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