In one of the most popular TED Talks of all-time, business luminary and Apple founder Steve Jobs gives his advice on how to live before you die. The speech was made at the 2005 Stanford University commencement ceremony and the advice therein has since stood the test of time.
In opening his speech, Mr. Jobs remarks he never graduated from university. But he insists this does not mean he is uneducated. According to Mr. Jobs, the best education comes from life. As such, Mr. Jobs’ speech centers around three stories from his life.
Connecting the Dots
In his own words, Mr. Jobs says the first story is about ‘connecting the dots’. In relaying his first story, Mr. Jobs opens up about why he dropped out of college. According to Mr. Jobs, it started at the beginning. Before he was born, it was decided Mr. Jobs would be given up for adoption. His biological mother wanted him to go to a college-educated family, but he ended up adopted by a woman who had dropped out of college, and a man who had never graduated from high school. Only once this couple promised Mr. Jobs’ biological mother that he would go to college was she willing to sign the adoption papers.
When Mr. Jobs turned seventeen, he did in fact attend college. However, after six months, he realized he was depleting the entire amount his working class parents had been able to save throughout their lives. Since he was unsure what he wanted to do, he could not see the value of this, and dropped out. According to Mr. Jobs, this was one of the best decisions he ever made; because he was free to drop in on the classes that actually interested him. One such course was calligraphy. Though at the time it was largely deemed an impractical course, according to Mr. Jobs, ten years later, when he was designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to him. According to Mr. Jobs, had he not taken that course, he would likely not have included beautiful font options in the Mac.
According to Mr. Jobs, it is not possible to connect the dots looking forward. It is only possible to connect them years later looking backwards. To end this first story, Mr. Jobs suggests the best thing to do in our present moment is to follow our hearts and to trust that if we do, all the dots will connect in the future once we look back.
Love and Loss
According to Mr. Jobs, his second story is about love and loss. According to Mr. Jobs, he was lucky in life; he found what he loved to do early on. He started Apple in his parent’s garage when he was twenty. Ten years after that Apple was worth $2 billion. Steve was then thirty. It was at that point he was fired. As much as this event was personally devastating to Mr. Jobs at the time, as he recounts it, a realization slowly began to dawn on him. According to Mr. Jobs, he began to realize he still loved what he did. He had been rejected, but he was still in love. So, he decided to start again.
Though Mr. Jobs says he couldn’t see it then, getting fired from Apple was one of the best things that ever happened to him. According to Mr. Jobs, ‘The heaviness of success had been replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again… it freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.’ According to Mr. Jobs, over the next five years he founded a company named Next, another named Pixar, and met the woman who would eventually become his wife. According to Mr. Jobs, Pixar would go on to become the most successful animation studio in the world, Apple bought Next, and he and his wife had a wonderful family together. Mr. Jobs says he believes none of that would have happened had he not been fired from Apple. Mr. Jobs says, ‘Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Just keep going.’ According to Mr. Jobs, the only reason he believes he kept going was because he loved what he did. To end the story, Mr. Jobs insists that we must find what we love. And he insists this is as true for work as it is for our lovers. According to Mr. Jobs, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do… don’t settle’.
A Story About Death
To open his final story Mr. Jobs offers a quote, ‘If you live each day like it’s your last, one day you’ll most certainly be right’. In reflecting on this quote, since he heard it thirty-five years ago, Mr. Jobs says that every day since he looks himself in the mirror in the morning and asks himself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ According to Mr. Jobs, whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, he has known he needed to change something. According to Mr. Jobs, in the face of death, only those things that are truly important remain.
To illustrate this point, Mr. Jobs relates the story of his own cancer diagnosis. According to Mr. Jobs, this was the first time he truly faced his own mortality. And in so doing, he learned several things. First, he believes death is the best change-agent in life. It clears out the old to make way for the new. To emphasize the point, Mr. Jobs reminds the students, though they are now the new, they too will someday be cleared away. He tells them their time is limited. And to not waste it living someone else’s life. He also recommends not to be trapped by dogma, or as he calls it, ‘living by the results of other people’s thinking’. He recommends to not allow the noise of other’s opinions to drown out one’s own inner voice. And most importantly, he recommends having the courage to follow your heart and intuition as they somehow already know who you truly want to become. According to Mr. Jobs, everything else is secondary.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
To end his speech, Mr. Jobs relates a story about a publication from his youth known as ‘The Whole Earth Catalogue’. According to Mr. Jobs, when the publication printed its final edition, on the back of the last edition they printed a picture of an early morning country road with the words, ‘Stay hungry. Stay foolish.’ According to Mr. Jobs, he has always wished that for himself. To stay hungry, and to stay foolish. In closing, Mr. Jobs suggests this is the one thing he wishes for all of the students graduating on that day: To stay hungry. And stay foolish.