Steve Jobs' Inspiring Words

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Steve Jobs Stan­ford Grad­u­a­tion Address — 2005


I am hon­ored to be with you today at your com­mence­ment from one of the finest uni­ver­si­ties in the world. I never grad­u­ated from col­lege. Truth be told, this is the clos­est I’ve ever got­ten to a col­lege grad­u­a­tion. Today I want to tell you three sto­ries from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about con­nect­ing the dots.

I dropped out ofReed­Col­legeafter the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My bio­log­i­cal mother was a young, unwed col­lege grad­u­ate stu­dent, and she decided to put me up for adop­tion. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by col­lege grad­u­ates, so every­thing was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my par­ents, who were on a wait­ing list, got a call in the mid­dle of the night ask­ing: “We have an unex­pected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My bio­log­i­cal mother later found out that my mother had never grad­u­ated from col­lege and that my father had never grad­u­ated from high school. She refused to sign the final adop­tion papers. She only relented a few months later when my par­ents promised that I would some­day go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to col­lege. But I naively chose a col­lege that was almost as expen­sive as Stan­ford, and all of my working-class par­ents’ sav­ings were being spent on my col­lege tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea 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. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but look­ing back it was one of the best deci­sions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop tak­ing the required classes that didn’t inter­est me, and begin drop­ping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all roman­tic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bot­tles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sun­day night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna tem­ple. I loved it. And much of what I stum­bled into by fol­low­ing my curios­ity and intu­ition turned out to be price­less later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed­Col­legeat that time offered per­haps the best cal­lig­ra­phy instruc­tion in the coun­try. Through­out the cam­pus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beau­ti­fully hand cal­ligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the nor­mal classes, I decided to take a cal­lig­ra­phy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif type­faces, about vary­ing the amount of space between dif­fer­ent let­ter com­bi­na­tions, about what makes great typog­ra­phy great. It was beau­ti­ful, his­tor­i­cal, artis­ti­cally sub­tle in a way that sci­ence can’t cap­ture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion in my life. But ten years later, when we were design­ing the first Mac­in­tosh com­puter, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first com­puter with beau­ti­ful typog­ra­phy. If I had never dropped in on that sin­gle course in col­lege, the Mac would have never had mul­ti­ple type­faces or pro­por­tion­ally spaced fonts. And since Win­dows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no per­sonal com­puter would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this cal­lig­ra­phy class, and per­sonal com­put­ers might not have the won­der­ful typog­ra­phy that they do. Of course it was impos­si­ble to con­nect the dots look­ing for­ward when I was in col­lege. But it was very, very clear look­ing back­wards ten years later.

Again, 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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the dif­fer­ence in my life.

My sec­ond story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my par­ents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 bil­lion com­pany with over 4000 employ­ees. We had just released our finest cre­ation — the Mac­in­tosh — a year ear­lier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a com­pany you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired some­one who I thought was very tal­ented to run the com­pany with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and even­tu­ally we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Direc­tors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very pub­licly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurs down — that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apol­o­gize for screw­ing up so badly. I was a very pub­lic fail­ure, and I even thought about run­ning away from the val­ley. But some­thing slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that get­ting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever hap­pened to me. The heav­i­ness of being suc­cess­ful was replaced by the light­ness of being a begin­ner again, less sure about every­thing. It freed me to enter one of the most cre­ative peri­ods of my life.

Dur­ing the next five years, I started a com­pany named NeXT, another com­pany named Pixar, and fell in love with an amaz­ing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to cre­ate the worlds first com­puter ani­mated fea­ture film, Toy Story, and is now the most suc­cess­ful ani­ma­tion stu­dio in the world. In a remark­able turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the tech­nol­ogy we devel­oped at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s cur­rent renais­sance. And Lau­rene and I have a won­der­ful fam­ily together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have hap­pened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tast­ing med­i­cine, but I guess the patient needed it. Some­times life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m con­vinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. 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. 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 until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went some­thing like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, some­day you’ll most cer­tainly be right.” It made an impres­sion on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mir­ror every morn­ing and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And when­ever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remem­ber­ing that I’ll be dead soon is the most impor­tant tool I’ve ever encoun­tered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost every­thing — all exter­nal expec­ta­tions, all pride, all fear of embar­rass­ment or fail­ure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leav­ing only what is truly impor­tant. Remem­ber­ing that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of think­ing you have some­thing to lose. You are already naked. There is no rea­son not to fol­low your heart.

About a year ago I was diag­nosed with can­cer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morn­ing, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pan­creas. I didn’t even know what a pan­creas was. The doc­tors told me this was almost cer­tainly a type of can­cer that is incur­able, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doc­tor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for pre­pare to die. It means to try to tell your kids every­thing you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure every­thing is but­toned up so that it will be as easy as pos­si­ble for your fam­ily. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diag­no­sis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endo­scope down my throat, through my stom­ach and into my intestines, put a nee­dle into my pan­creas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a micro­scope the doc­tors started cry­ing because it turned out to be a very rare form of pan­cre­atic can­cer that is cur­able with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the clos­est I’ve been to fac­ing death, and I hope it’s the clos­est I get for a few more decades. Hav­ing lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more cer­tainty than when death was a use­ful but purely intel­lec­tual concept:

No one wants to die. Even peo­ple who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the des­ti­na­tion we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the sin­gle best inven­tion of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but some­day not too long from now, you will grad­u­ally become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dra­matic, but it is quite true.

Your time is lim­ited, so don’t waste it liv­ing some­one else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is liv­ing with the results of other people’s think­ing. Don’t let the noise of oth­ers’ opin­ions drown out your own inner voice. And most impor­tant, have the courage to fol­low your heart and intu­ition. They some­how already know what you truly want to become. Every­thing else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amaz­ing pub­li­ca­tion called The Whole Earth Cat­a­log, which was one of the bibles of my gen­er­a­tion. It was cre­ated by a fel­low named Stew­art Brand not far from here inMenlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before per­sonal com­put­ers and desk­top pub­lish­ing, so it was all made with type­writ­ers, scis­sors, and polaroid cam­eras. It was sort of like Google in paper­back form, 35 years before Google came along: it was ide­al­is­tic, and over­flow­ing with neat tools and great notions.

Stew­art and his team put out sev­eral issues of The Whole Earth Cat­a­log, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a pho­to­graph of an early morn­ing coun­try road, the kind you might find your­self hitch­hik­ing on if you were so adven­tur­ous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hun­gry. Stay Fool­ish.” It was their farewell mes­sage as they signed off. Stay Hun­gry. Stay Fool­ish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you grad­u­ate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hun­gry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.


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