Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

I don't know how I managed to miss this one, but my aunt sent it to me, and it was so striking that I just had to share it in its entirety.

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 of Reed College after 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:

Reed College at 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 sans 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, its 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 retuned 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 its 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 other's 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 in Menlo 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.

       - Steve Jobs

A short commentary

You've probably all experienced serendipities of education, where you went somewhere you didn't expect to learn something and it served you incredibly well later on. Mine is mundane: I had scored only a '3' on the 1989 Computer Science Advanced Placement exam, because I did not actually take the course and studied Pascal for only 7 weeks before taking the exam. At 15, I was not very facile with references. That fall, I started my undergraduate program at Johns Hopkins University. I got into the data structures course a semester early because my academic advisor was hours from going into labor. Later, the instructor for the Introduction to Programming (Pascal) course would not let me into it without giving me a 0 on the first two assignments, so I toughed it out. I shaved a year off my undergraduate program, became a good enough computer science student that I made straight As in my major after the first year, and started the Ph.D. program at Illinois when I was 19. I also became a competent programmer, which I wouldn't have been otherwise - and all because of a clerical mistake.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2005 10:54 pm (UTC)

"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.

Jul. 10th, 2005 11:01 pm (UTC)
I know many people who live as if they were about to die, as the Toby Keith song recently recapitulated, and nearly all of them do more because of it.

Jul. 11th, 2005 01:21 am (UTC)
Re: Absolutely
To live each day, like it's your last. Live each day like it's your last...

I SO need to buy the all seasons dvd of "Walker Texas Ranger" and watch it before I kick the bucket.
Jul. 11th, 2005 01:50 am (UTC)
Walker, Texas Ranger

BTW, I miswrote - the song "Live Like You Were Dying" is by Tim McGraw, not Toby Keith.

Jul. 11th, 2005 08:16 am (UTC)
Re: Absolutely
And yet, they still do their laundry. I mean, if you were to die in under 24 hours, would you really be worrying about the state of your underthings?
Jul. 11th, 2005 02:58 pm (UTC)
If tomorrow never comes, would you still wash your undies?
Well, speaking only for myself... I might. I don't think it's so much "treating it as an absolute certainty" as "treating it as a probable circumstance". Some people would go on a robbing or murdering rampage if they were certain to die in 24 hours; others would confess all their secret loves and crimes (which is something that perhaps the originator of the sentiment had in mind); others, such as myself, would just spend the day with people they care about and do what they always wanted to.

Jul. 11th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Absolutely
Jul. 12th, 2005 01:26 am (UTC)
So many questions
LOL! Where's that from?

And might I add: where's your icon from?

Jul. 12th, 2005 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: So many questions
It's a promotional poster for Doppelgamer 3: The Search for Doppelgamer 2, which is a "film" by a college friend of mine featuring my older friends. I was too young to be involved, so I had to wait for my big-screen debut as a faceless ninja in Really Decadent Guys.

The icon is from the VG Cats wallpapers.
Jul. 11th, 2005 08:14 am (UTC)
and all because of a clerical mistake

Please forgive my confusion. Whose mistake? Where? You mean that you had a "typo" on your AP exam, or?
Jul. 11th, 2005 08:24 am (UTC)
Upon rereading, I suspect that the error was the early entry to the data structures class*.

*Or, "course". I debate which to say every time (because our introductory programming courses were in C++, and I regularly had to disambiguate). Argle. (;
Jul. 11th, 2005 03:04 pm (UTC)
Course numbers and names
Yep, that was it. Data Structures, 600.327.

The funny thing was: I never even noticed course numbers when I was an undergrad at JHU. We just used course names. I think that's a sign of a strong curriculum. I'll bet the Ivy Leaguers, perhaps MIT and Stanford, don't give a lesser trask about numbers either.

Then again, we used only numbers at UIUC. I imagine the recent increment of the CS 3xx courses to CS 4xx must have caused some consternation.

Anyone have anecdotal information on their Ivy League (or any good) course program?

Jul. 11th, 2005 03:00 pm (UTC)
The error
It was that my advisor had misread my transcript (and that perhaps some assistant of hers had mismarked my prerequisites).

Hopkins was not very strict about programs of study: if you could tough it out in a course you didn't belong in, and you satisfied all the pro forma requirements, nobody ever went back to check if you took 600.108.

(Deleted comment)
Jul. 12th, 2005 01:25 am (UTC)
Commencement speeches
You're welcome, and it certainly is.

I've recently considered starting a collection of commencement speeches: young, imminent professionals on the cusp of their lives, facing the launch of their careers, being addressed by senior veterans and proven achievers and luminaries. What do you think?

(Deleted comment)
Jul. 12th, 2005 06:54 am (UTC)
Your commencement speaker
Who was it, and what was the speech about?

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

December 2008

KSU Genetic and Evolutionary Computation (GEC) Lab



Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Communities

Fresh Pages


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Naoto Kishi