3 Takeaways from Steve Jobs’s Commencement Speech

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By Derek Fronczak

Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University is regarded as perhaps the best commencement speech of all time. This is somewhat ironic—considering Apple’s co-founder was a college dropout. That said, his insights in this speech are profound and just as applicable to young adults today as they were over a decade ago.

Jobs structured the speech into three stories. These stories were illustrations of the takeaways I’d like to share with you today.

Connect the Dots

“Trust that it’ll all work out OK,” Jobs tells the sea of soon to be graduates. He proceeds to tell the story of his dropping out of college (because of financial issues) but sticking around to audit classes.

One of the classes he audited was a study of calligraphy, which had no practical application to Jobs; it was just something he was interested in. 10 years later, this following of his intuition, curiosity, and passion, paid dividends on the obscure class: It shaped the revolutionary typefaces on the first Mac.

It’s important to trust your own personal journey. You can’t connect the dots forward—only looking back can we see why we took the detours, forks, and turns that we did to forge our own individual path.

Love and Loss

The next story revolves around when Jobs was forced out of Apple at the age of 30. He had started the company in his garage with Steve Wazniak 10 years earlier. Jobs was crushed—he thought of leaving Silicon Valley. But then he realized he still loved what he did and decided to stick around.

And then…a funny thing happened. He felt the pressure of running the behemoth Apple lift from his shoulders. This freed up his creativity and led to the pioneer animation studio Pixar, along with its premiere smash-hit, Toy Story.

Jobs also founded Apple-competitor NeXT. After some time passed Apple remarkably asked Jobs to rejoin the company as CEO. He did and the technology developed at NeXT helped power the hardware at a rejuvenated Apple in the coming decades.

What did these experiences teach Jobs? “Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick—don’t lose faith.” Again, trust your journey.

Also, find work you love. Work is going to make up a lot of your time on this earth, so it’s important to do great work. And the only way any of us are capable of doing great work is by loving that work. Like matters of the heart, you’ll know when you’ve found it. Don’t settle.

 Death

A wry saying Steve heard when he was young had a profound impact on how he viewed life. Inspired by this, for more than the next three decades of his life, when he looked at himself in the mirror, he would ask himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” If the answer was No too many days in a row he knew he had to change something.

Jobs goes on to tell the crowd that remembering you will be dead soon is the best tool he knows to help make the big decisions in life. He says death may be the best gift of life because of this—all the trivialities and small stuff false away when you keep this elemental truth in mind every day.

Jobs then talks about his brush with death and his (temporary) victory over cancer. This has made what was a useful thought exercise into concrete experience for him.

He closes the speech with another slogan—one he saw on the back of the final issues of a beloved magazine.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

The full fifteenish-minute speech is available for free on YouTube and similar search sites. I’ve done it the best justice I can copy but the video is truly spectacular. Worth a watch. 

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