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3 lessons from Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement speech 18 years ago that still resonate today

Lydia Ramsey Pflanzer   

3 lessons from Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement speech 18 years ago that still resonate today
  • Apple's Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University on June 12, 2005.
  • He told three stories about love, death, and following your gut.

Some of Steve Jobs' most iconic quotes came from a commencement address on June 12, 2005.

Speaking to the graduating class of Stanford University, the Apple cofounder and then-CEO told three stories that connected lessons he'd learned in his life to advice for the new graduates.

Jobs died in 2011 at the age of 56.

Eighteen years later, the 15-minute speech continues to resonate, offering useful advice on life and work for people of all ages.

Here are the three big lessons Jobs shared:

'Trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future'

Jobs' first story explained why he decided to drop out of college.

After six months in school, Jobs said he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, and he couldn't see how college was going to play a role. Rather than spend his parents' money, he dropped out.

"I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK," Jobs said in the speech.

Instead, Jobs said he started "dropping in" on classes that interested him.

"Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on," Jobs said.

That included a class on calligraphy that taught Jobs about typeface and design, which would later play a role in building the Mac personal computer.

"If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do," Jobs said.

Connecting the dots between a calligraphy class and the design of the Mac wasn't something Jobs could see at the time when he dropped out.

"You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future," Jobs said. "You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."

'Find what you love'

The second story Jobs told recounted the time he was fired from Apple.

In 10 years, Jobs and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak had gone from running a business in a garage to a $2 billion company, Jobs said in the speech.

But at 30, Jobs was forced out of the company.

"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," Jobs said.

Jobs said in the speech that it led to a creative period in his life, in which he started two companies and fell in love. Later, Apple bought one of the companies, and Jobs returned to Apple.

"Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith," Jobs said. "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."

If you haven't found what you love yet, Jobs said, "Don't settle."

"As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

'Death is the destination we all share'

Jobs' final story of the commencement speech revealed what he went through when learning of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Jobs died of complications related to the cancer in 2011.

Jobs said since he was a teenager, he had used the motivation of living each day like it might be your last to help him make big choices.

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose," Jobs said. "You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

When Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, he was initially told the cancer was incurable and that he had only months to live. Later that day, he said, a biopsy revealed the cancer could be treated with surgery. "I had the surgery and thankfully I'm fine now."

But the near-death encounter gave him certainty, he said, of what he wanted to share with the graduates.

"Death is the destination we all share," Jobs said. "No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life."

That is, it's important to make sure you're living true to you.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life," Jobs said, adding, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

After his three stories, Jobs left Stanford's 2005 graduating class with parting words he learned from the final issue of a 1970s publication: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

You can watch the full speech here:


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