Lessons for the Hungry and Foolish

Lessons for the Hungry and Foolish

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, began his commencement address at Stanford University by admitting he was a college dropout.

Jobs not only confessed that he dropped out of Reed College after just six months but added that he doesn't regret it. In fact, when he looks back on his diverse but connected experiences (which explain how he got where he is now), Jobs sees leaving school as "one of the best decisions" he ever made. Doing so enabled him to stop spending his adoptive parents' carefully saved money on education at a time when he had no idea how he might use that education, and allowed him to informally sit in on courses that interested him instead of enrolling in required courses that bored him.

One of the courses that interested Jobs was calligraphy. Learning how to create beautiful letters didn't seem like a very practical skill at the time, but ten years later, when he was developing the first Macintosh computer, Jobs drew on that calligraphy experience to incorporate multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts as two of the Mac's most distinctive features. His competitor, Microsoft, was then quick to add those elements to its Windows operating system.

As Jobs reflected in his Stanford speech, "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." The life lesson he extracts from this experience is that individuals must be willing to trust their gut instincts when they make choices and believe that those choices (or "dots") will somehow connect to their future.

A second experience that Jobs shared with Stanford grads that day was that after building Apple into a $2 billion enterprise in just ten years, he was fired by the company’s board of directors. While he was understandably devastated at the time, Jobs now calls this "the best thing that could ever have happened to me” because it “freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." Within five years Jobs started both the NeXT company and Pixar Animation Studios. Apple purchased NeXT, and Jobs returned to the company that had fired him. He now oversees what he calls Apple's current renaissance, based on the NeXT technology.

Jobs calls this a "love and loss" life lesson; he continued to do the things he loved after he lost his job, and that passion enabled him to reach a new pinnacle in his career. Jobs' advice to grads is also appropriate for aspiring entrepreneurs. He said that "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."

The third life lesson Jobs spoke about that day is what he calls a death lesson. In 2004 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had three to six months to live. Then the doctors discovered that his tumor was actually a rare form of the disease that is curable by surgery. Now that he is cancer-free, Jobs wants everyone to "have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Our time on earth," he reminds us, "is limited."

In his closing remarks, Jobs reminisced about The Whole Earth Catalog, a publication from the 1960s and 1970s, which he described as a kind of "Google in paperback." The catalog’s farewell advice, printed on the back cover of the final issue, was "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." Jobs says this is something he has always wished for himself and something he would wish for new college graduates. It’s a good motto for entrepreneurs, too. 

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