Conversely, I have a net worth of diddly-squat.
Regardless of our drastically different levels of success, I feel somewhat connected to Steve Jobs. His 2005 Stanford Commencement Address changed my life, and I’m grateful.
Consequently, I decided to write a letter to Steve Jobs — not only to thank him for his life-altering speech, but to simultaneously ask him for help.
Why I imagined a leading figure of the computer industry might give a small-timer like myself the time of day, I’m not totally sure.
Perhaps I was simply following the advice of the familiar adage: “What’s the worst that can happen?” — If I ask Steve Jobs for help, maybe he’ll say “No.” That wouldn’t be so horrible.
Confident that being told “No” from a multi-billionaire wasn’t the end of the world, I composed the following letter:
June 7, 2007
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Dear Mr. Jobs:
I read a copy of the Stanford Commencement Address you delivered in 2005. Within six months, I quit my job, sold everything that wouldn’t fit into my car, and moved out of state in pursuit of what I love.
Thanks very much for helping me recognize I didn’t love what I was doing. Your speech inspired me to start over, putting my passion first.
I’ve embraced my love for writing, and work towards my goal of becoming a professional blogger with daily enthusiasm. I’m convinced that as long as I stay consistent, and work towards achieving my goals every day, then I’m certain to reach them.
Please forgive me, because I am about to change the tone of this letter by asking you something outrageous: Would you be willing to send me a donated laptop?
I recognize it’s selfish, rude, and very presumptuous on my part to ask. After all, I am a stranger to whom you owe nothing. In fact, I already feel indebted to you since the positive changes in my life began with reading your speech.
That being said, I also recognize that the worst that can happen is you say “No.” For your convenience, I’ve included a self-addressed, stamped envelope with an index card that says “No.”
Please understand that I’m asking only because having a laptop will help me reach my goals faster. Currently, my “writing area” is the Technology Center in my local library. Any laptop capable of Web access and Word Processing will tear down the walls and operating hours of my writing area and permit me to write whenever I choose.
Thanks for your time and consideration. Thanks again for the inspiration.
Shaun Boyd of LifeReboot.com
I read the letter silently, over and over again, trying to make sure I’ve written something that won’t be immediately perceived as garbage. Steve Jobs probably receives countless solicitations for “Freebies” — and I don’t want to come off as just another tactless beggar asking for handouts.
Once satisfied, I submit the letter to be printed. I pay ten cents to the library staff to release the print job. I sign the letter, fold it into thirds, and stuff it into an envelope addressed to Steve Jobs.
As I prepare to place it in the same envelope as the letter, I notice how incredibly harmless the response I prepared really is. I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture of it. (Notice: Clicking an image will display its enlarged version.)
In preparing a convenient way for a response to be sent back to me, I created a physical representation of the worst possible outcome. Looking it over, I understood that there are far worse things to be afraid of.
I sent the letter.
I imagined that one day I’d open my mailbox and find the familiar envelope, addressed to me in my own handwriting, with the succinct answer of “No” inside of it.
Four weeks passed with no trace of my pink index card.
I wasn’t sure if that meant he was still thinking about it, or he hadn’t received it. Maybe it never even got past his front line of defenses — and his personal assistant decided my request should meet the paper shredder.
“Oh well,” I thought — those requests must get ignored all the time.
The very next day, an envelope marked with the Apple insignia arrived in my mailbox.
I stared at it in disbelief. Though it was clear this envelope would not contain a laptop, it was not the blunt response I included with my inquiry — this was something unexpected.
I took my time opening Apple’s response. I set it down on my desk and sat across from it for a while with my arms folded. I tried to imagine how an Apple employee would politely say “Shove it!” — “Screw you!” — or “Piss off!”
Knowing it was most likely a simple form letter, I opened the letter. It said:
June 29, 2007
Mr. Shaun Boyd
Dear Mr. Boyd,
Thank you for your recent inquiry.
We regret we are unable to accommodate your request for support at this time.
Apple’s current Community Affairs program focuses on employee volunteerism. Throughout the year, Apple employees share their time and talents with local communities and schools.
Our commitment to schools is also reflected in our product pricing discount for K-12 and higher education. Please refer to www.apple.com/education for information on pricing discounts for education.
We wish you success with your work and thank you for thinking of Apple.
So that’s that — Apple said “No.”
Though disappointing, it’s not so disappointing that I’ll avoid asking for charity ever again. It’s really not a big deal. I asked for help and, as I expected, my selfish request was refused.
Writing to Steve Jobs was a “Low-Risk, High-Reward Experiment” with two potential outcomes:
- My request for an expensive gift is honored. I’m sent a free laptop courtesy of Apple. I begin writing whenever and wherever I choose. Whenever a “PC vs Mac” debate arises, I share this story.
- My request is ignored or refused. I’m told “No” and life goes on.
I continue writing using the shared PCs in my local public library.
I buy a laptop when I can afford to.
There was a slim chance I would get what I asked for — but if I didn’t ask, then I’d have no chance at all.
Unfortunately, people often prefer not to ask for help when there’s a chance of being told “No.”
Take another look at the picture of the pink index card. Is that really what you’re afraid of? Is this simple word preventing you from asking for a raise, or a vacation, or even a longer lunch break?
Stop being afraid of being told “No” — it’s not a horribly embarrassing experience, and you’re probably entitled to whatever you’re asking for. There’s even a chance you’ll get it.
So if you need something, ask for it. The worst that could happen is rarely life-threatening.
But if you’re looking to ask for a free laptop, ask Bill Gates. 😉
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