Huang: How can I be as great as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?

Yujia Huang, Op-Ed Contributor

“How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Sir Richard Branson?” This question received more than 100 answers on Quora, getting responses from curious minds all over the world. This question is relevant because every once and awhile, we all ask ourselves this question, “How can I be great?”

There is, however, a difference between asking “How can I be great?” and “How can I be as great as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?” The latter implies comparison, and imitation can be dangerous. We live in a time of mass media, and social media triggers our impulse to compare. Many of us compare ourselves to people who look flawless in their Instagram posts. We turn to the most knowledgeable student in our classes for inspiration, and often through that process, we unconsciously set an unreasonable standard for ourselves, just like the person who first posed this Quora question. We look at people who have resiliently carved out their own paths, secretly hoping that if we copy what they do and do it even better than them, then maybe one day we’ll be successful too.

But there is danger in such thinking. Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it nicely: “Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton?” Indeed, the Greatest of All Time are truly unique. There will never be a second Shakespeare. And there will never be a second Steve Jobs.

Another logical fallacy we tend to fall into is we should pursue the industries that the Greatest of All Time are in. Steve Jobs was great, so working at Apple must be a stepping stone to greatness. Jeff Bezos is doing well, so working for Amazon must be the way to go.

Such thinking might seem rational at first, but in reality, it reverses the relationship between the cause and effect. Steve Jobs only became the Greatest of All Time because he was hungry and passionate about what he did from the very beginning; the inventions of iPod and iPhone are simply manifestation of such obsession. These people were busy obsessing with what they did, instead of imitating people that have come before them. Steve Jobs did not want to be the second Bill Gates. He simply wanted to be the first Steve Jobs. And he did.

Justine Musk, Elon’s ex-wife, actually took out some time to respond to this Quora question. She wrote in her response, “Don’t pursue something because you ‘want to be great.’ Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you.”Justine highlights the importance of finding something you are passionate about. Read, not what Jacob is passionate about, or what Samantha is passionate about. It is all about your passions.

The first step to being great is the ability to find something that makes you obsessive. “If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you,” asserts Justine. She makes a great point. Rare and extraordinary success is rare because most people end up pursuing someone else’s passions. Julie became a doctor because that was her father’s dream. Jessica became a lawyer because her mother regrets not going to law school. Jacob joined Apple because he followed Steve Jobs’ path, not his own. Before you become great, realize this: following the path of others who are great does not lead to greatness; it is the other way around. Here’s the truth: imitation is suicide, so stop doing what other people love, and start doing what you love.

Yujia Huang is a Weinberg junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.