Do What You Love: Time is Too Short to do Anything Else ...
"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
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 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.
Fired From Apple
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 world's 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
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.
Diagnosed With Cancer
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 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 1960s, 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."
The Stanford (University) Report June 14, 2005