Steve Jobs’ view of life and death

betty ming liu Inspiration 8 Comments

Ever since Steve Jobs’ death last week, I have been watching and re-watching the YouTube video of his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech. And it makes me weepy every single time — because it’s so damn inspiring.

While snippets from the speech have appeared in various obituaries, his talk deserves a space all its own. You’ll want to hear and watch Steve Jobs explain how to live and how to die. He shares about being adopted (his biological dad was an immigrant from Syria). He describes his cancer, his failures, his loves. He is funny, sincere, passionate. By posting this 2005 moment on my blog, I hope to receive the blessing of Steve Jobs’ artistic energy.

I can’t bring myself to call him Steve because I didn’t personally know him. But clearly, he knew me — and exactly what I needed. Where would I be without the Apple products that rescued me from tech despair? I’m blogging this post on my MacBook Pro. The iPad and iPod Touch are charging next to my desk. We recently bought our first Mac desktop. As soon as my BlackBerry phone contract expires in December, I’m gonna get me an iPhone. And I can’t say enough about the Apple Store trainers and the One-to-One program.

This man dared to make beautiful and powerful machines. He turned his back on trends and conventional wisdom. New York Times tech columnist David Pogue put it best:

Over and over again, he took away our comfy blankets. He took away our floppy drives, our dial-up modems, our camcorder jacks, our non-glossy screens, our Flash, our DVD drives, our removable laptop batteries.

How could he do that? You’re supposed to add features, not take them away, Steve! That’s just not done!

Here’s the video. Every precious word counts. The message will help keep you on your path:

If you’re in a hurry, you can read the commencement speech by the college drop-out who changed our world. A poor substitute for the video, quite frankly, especially since he subtly deviates from the text in key moments.

Still, if you’re in a super hurry and need a fix right now, I’d like to share two of his quotes from the speech. Just so you’ll have something to hold onto in this moment:

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. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

And one more quote:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for 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 — and 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. Don’t settle.

I also love the closing advice from his speech. What he says at the end makes it plain why he is being remember for many things — but especially as an artist.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Watch the video and you will now exactly what these two sentences mean.



Comments 8

  1. Steve Jobs was certainly an inspiration. Following the conventional path, lock-step- from cradle to grave may well be the best course for some people – or, as the great Ethel Merman put it in “Gypsy,” “Some people can get a thrill, knitting sweaters and sitting still – well that’s OK for some people, some hum-drum people, not me!” (note in passing – to a NY Gay Man, EVERYTHING is a cue for a song) Sometimes “following your bliss” as James Campbell put it, can lead you over the edge of a cliff BUT to have lived without ever having followed your heart’s desire is to have merely existed. Back in the early ’70s I had just acquired tenure in a good teaching situation when an unexpected and frankly quite bizarre path opened up for me. For various reasons (long story) substantial money became available to create an operate an elaborate, fantasy re-creation of a turn of the century medicine show and take it on tour on the county fair circuit through New England and the Mid-West. What we created was really quite wonderful. There were side-show tents, a steam calliope wagon, the world’s largest portable puppet theater (it took an entire 50 foot tractor trailer to move the parts of the puppet theater. When it was erected it looked like a Victorian opera house complete with a bell tower 30 feet high) There was a crew of 16, mostly former students of mine. We spent 3 years on the circuit, sponsored by the National Bicentennial Commission, had incredible adventures, huge crises, great triumphs, appalling disasters, fabulous reviews, got run out of town by a sheriff, nearly got shot, performed before crowds of as many as 2,000 and as few as 2 but always had them in the palm of our hand. My fellow teachers thought I was entirely out of my mind to give up tenure to “run away with a circus.” “Grow up! Be responsible! This is the real world! Those comments and many more were what I heard from them. They were wrong. Those 3 years were a life changing experience for me and for everyone in the show (who remain the closest of friends to this day. I was young. In my heart I knew there would be other teaching positions, other shots at tenure – but adventures, if not had when young, are unlikely to come when one is old. My dear father, a wonderful man in many ways, worked for Dupont for 37 years. He intended to have his adventures when he retired. 6 Months after he retired, he was dead of a heart attack. Never was there a better illustration of the truth of the old Latin maxim “Carpe Diem.” I so advise my wonderful adopted sons – “listen to your heart, prepare yourself to do that which will truly make you happy, have adventures, be careful but don’t be afraid to take a chance if your heart is telling you to.” In many ways, those 3 years were the scariest, most challenging, most fascinating, most learning, most wonderful and most formative years of my life. I never regretted the decision.

  2. Post

    toby, i’ve missed you! the story of your daddy is a lesson, for sure. it is also one of steve job’s themes in his speech. learning that he had pancreatic cancer was a game changer and life changer.

    which raises the question…do we have to lose what we have in order to appreciate what it meant to us? i say that we go forward today and really live in the moment. :)

  3. Betty, thanks for posting Steve Jobs’ entire graduation speech. There was such a poignancy to the story on death, since at the time he didn’t know his cancer would recur. But he was clearly in the mode of keeping the lessons he learned in front of him.
    Also, In the media accounts I read, I don’t recall seeing a mention of the origin of the “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” remark. It made sense that it came from that terrific Whole Earth publication, to which he gave tender attribution.

  4. Post

    gerry, thank you for reading! yes, hearing him talk about beating the cancer was a moment for me too. and there was also a certain something to hearing him talk about pixar. of course, a year after he gave that speech, he sold pixar to disney for more than $7 billion and went on to become disney’s largest shareholder.

    i saw “stay hungry/stay foolish” at the end of one of the tribute stories. but it got lost in the barrage of detailed coverage right after steve jobs’ death.

    btw, how embarrassing…i just noticed that i referred to the great man in the headline as “steve job’s view on life and death.” it should be “steve jobs’ view.” i just fixed the apostrophe.

    also want to thank lindsay blair brown, my tech consultant. on the night steve jobs died, she was over at my house working on this website. the minute we heard about his passing, she pulled up the video for us to watch.

    lindsay’s a terrific photographer too. check out her work at:

  5. Post
  6. Pingback: 12 ways to know if you’re an entrepreneur | betty ming liu

  7. Betty,
    To most people Jobs is looked up to and all to many forget Steve Wazniak who single-handedly built both the Applei and Apple ][.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *