My sister told me about Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address where Jobs told three stories about his life that bring powerful perspecitve to education, work and life. The speech is embedded below and here’s my take on those three stories.
1. Education – don’t be a sheep about it
I think most people know that Bill Gates was a Harvard drop out; turns out—so was Jobs.
Jobs dropped out of Reed university because he felt that the value of the education he was getting was not worth the financial hardship it was bringing to his adoptive parents.
I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, and how college was going to help me figure it out, and here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life.”
Interestingly enough, he only dropped out of the degree program and all of the associated requirements, and he “dropped-in”—as he put it—to the courses that interested him.
An unexplainable attraction to calligraphy, which had no apparent real world value at the time, turned out to be a major inspiration for the first Mac.
For Jobs, the point of his apparently pointless journey into calligraphy is to simply follow your heart, follow your passion as he did, and trust that the choices you make—as long as you are true to your heart—will work out in the end.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future, you have to trust in something; your gut, destiny, life, karma whatever; because believeing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make all of the difference.”
For me, Jobs’ story illustrates more than the cliche follow your heart story. It illustrates the value of getting an education, but not the generalized, mass market one.
Get YOUR education, one that fits your interests, desires and financial constraints.
In other words, don’t be a sheep about your education. Pursue studies that fit with your interests and trust that they will lead you to work that you love.
Being great is about being you, so don’t worry about becoming a credentialed sheep. By all means get, sorry … practice your education, and practice it in a mood of wonder and play; more like a dolphin than a sheep.
2. Love your work (& don’t give up until you find what that work is)
Jobs talked about his dismissal from Apple, the company he had created. His very public humiliation almost caused him to leave Silicon valley, but then he realized that he was in love with what he did for a living, and that his being fired was actually a gift.
The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.”
It led him to the most creative period of his life. During his ‘between-Apple’ years he founded NeXT whose technology is at the foundation of Apple’s renaissance, and Pixar the animation company that won well over twenty Academy Awards and was bought by Disney.
Jobs point is that he was only able to come back from defeat and produce all of these great successes because he loved what he did.
More importantly, he feels that the firing from Apple was exactly the medicine he needed at the time, and without that experience none of his following successes would have happened. (A great story for all of those people who have lost their jobs and think its the end of their world.)
You’ve got to find what you love, and that is as true for (your) work as it is for your lovers. 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. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle; as with all matters of the heart you’ll know when you find it. And like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking, don’t settle.”
3. Live knowing that it won’t last
I recently lost my step-father so Jobs’ third story was particularly meaningful for me, even more so because it’s clear that the cancer he thought he had defeated clearly has come back. The following quote says it all:
Remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool to make the big choices in life. Almost everything, all external expectations, pride, fear of embarrassment, of failure, … these things all fall away in the face of death, leaving what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
In summary: Live, love and learn
You could summarize his speech with this headline, but the brilliance of it is that he connected the dots between them.
Through these three life stories he showed how living a great life comes from relating strongly to the brevity of life, how realizing that you can die at any time gives you no alternative but to follow your heart, and that following your heart leads you to work that you love.
Steve’s (Jobs seems inappropriate here) current situation makes his point about life and death all the more poignant.
Note to Steve:
Steve (wouldn’t that be something if he reads this),
I sincerely hope that you beat what ails you, and that you live on to follow your passion for decades more. When your time comes I will play this song in your honor:
My Way by Frank Sinatra.
Thanks for the i’s.
Here’s Steve’s speech: