Steve Jobs Speech: 4 Powerful Life Lessons

February 14, 2016

by Ravi Raman

steve jobs speech

Steve Jobs needs no introduction.

His impact on the world of technology has been immeasurable, and he has captivated the world of technology consumers and the industry as a whole for most of his adult life.

Steve Jobs was unique not just for his technical creations, but for his way of being that drove him to create products that lived up to his seemingly utopian ideas for how things should be.

His love of Zen, calligraphy, and minimalism all conspired to create products that others thought impossible to produce.

His high (and some might say brutish) standards for his employees ultimately resulted in what no one could deny, not even those who faced his wrath, “insanely great” products.

His life philosophy of building products that integrated usefulness and aesthetic beauty permeated his thinking when it came to other genres as well, including his thoughts on career direction and your life purpose.

This blog post summarizes his life and career purpose advice, stemming from his famous speech at the 2005 Stanford University Commencement.

Steve Jobs Speech: Stanford 2005

Steve Job’s speech is remarkable, worth reading in full and watching on youtube.

The full text of the speech can be found on the Stanford website.

Here is the video:

You might be curious if Steve would have wanted to have added any additional advice to his statement from 2005. In 2010, we had the change to find out.

5 years after his speech, at the All Things Digital conference, Steve Jobs was once again asked a question concerning his Stanford University commencement address. The question was if he had anything further to add to his advice, now that he was a few years wiser.

After hardly a few seconds of thought, Steve’s response only reiterated the urgency of his points.

“I don’t know…if anything I would just turn up the volume on it, the last few years have reminded me that life is fragile. – Steve Jobs”

Video of the Q&A below (response starts at 01h:12min:40sec):

In the remainder of this blog post, I’ve pulled out 4 lessons from Steve’s commencement – based on the 3 stories he shared and his final comments – with some thoughts on how we all can act on his words of wisdom to find our passion, and have the courage to follow it.

Lesson 1: Connect The Dots

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. 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. – Steve Jobs

Trusting your gut is a funny thing.

Everyone does it at certain times in their life (if you think back to the time you met your life partner or found an excellent job, that’s the feeling we are talking about).

However, it’s tough to lay out any specific process for replicating this feeling. Describing it is also tricky. An athlete might call it being “in the Zone,” a yogi might call it being “in tune” and a business person might call it “firing on all cylinders” or “making a good bet” or “taking a risk”.

So how do we know when we are doing the right thing by shaking something up (e.g. leaving a job, a relationship, a home location, etc.)?

We can’t know for sure.

Steve Job’s insight was that we can only know looking backward, and connecting the dots of our past.

So do exactly that.

Look back at your life, and examine the big decisions you made in your career, business and lifestyle.

Which decisions worked out well? How do the dots connect across your life experiences? What clues does your past have when it comes to making big decisions for your future?

By examining your past decisions, you will cover clues that can help you with future choices.

Lesson 2: Find What You Love

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. – Steve Jobs

Finding your life’s task is one of the most important missions we can have in life and is the featured first step to “Mastery” in Robert Green’s excellent book with the same name.

Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call “vocation.” But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of the vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselves … to distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life. —José Ortega y Gasset

Robert Greene lays out the following 3-step process to finding your Life’s Task in his book, “Mastery.”

  1. Connect or reconnect with your inclinations and sense of uniqueness.
  2. With this connection established, look at the career path you are already on or are about to begin, and ensure that it connects firmly with your inclinations and uniqueness as a human being overall, not just as a worker.
  3. See your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line.

Greene’s advice is fantastic and the stories in his book are highly inspirational and illustrative in how to apply his 3-step process yourself.

For a different method, I wrote a simple guide to finding your Life Purpose that outlines a few ways of thinking I’ve used multiple times to figure out the next step in my career and life. Check it out.

Lesson 3: Live Each Day As Your Last

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. – Steve Jobs

Yogi’s have meditated on the concept of depth for thousands of years.


It is not to rush towards death. It is also not to discount the tremendous value of living. Instead, the Yogi’s understand that by contemplating the mortal and transient nature of the physical body, they can deeply connect with the vital purpose for their life.

Contemplating your own mortality is a profoundly life-affirming exercise and brings forth great clarity of purpose.

Another technique I use, particularly when I am setting goals, is the rocking chair exercise. I image myself in old age (over 80 years old), sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch. I close my eyes and ask myself two simple questions:

  1. What am I most proud of having done?
  2. What do I regret not doing?

The answers to these questions are incredibly revealing and clarifying for any decision I am faced with.

Lesson 4: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

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

These were the parting words of wisdom from Steve Jobs during his commencement address.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Work is all too often a mundane task where people feel like they are “punching the clock” and waiting to reach an old age when they can finally retire and enjoy the few remaining few years of their life.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that research from The Gallup Organization shows that 70% of people are disengaged and work and unhappy in their jobs.

Being hungry for more regarding your quality of life (in whatever way you define that – financially, time-wise, leisure wise) is not selfish, it is absolutely essential.

It is only by choosing to focus on something that really motivates you, that you will be willing to take the required risks and do the work needed to achieve more out of your career and lifestyle.

Staying hungry means that you have a burning desire to achieve something, a goal or mission, that has heart and meaning for you.

If you don’t know what that objective is, download my free guide to learn a great process for getting unstuck and making goals in your career and lifestyle that are powerful and stick for the long-term.

Without clear goals, it’s hard to stoke this inner hunger.

Staying foolish is all about not taking things too seriously. It’s about valuing fun and joy as much as productivity and progress.

Life can be heavy at times, but it is often through lightness that we can glean the insights that help us get unstuck and make progress.

Alan Watts, one of my favorite Eastern philosophers, has powerful words regarding the magic of lightness, fun, and play when it comes to finding meaning and happiness in our schooling, work and lifestyles.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Alan Watts quotes:

“Look at the people who live to retire, and put those savings away.

And then when they’re sixty-five, and they don’t have any energy left, they’re more or less impotent, they go and rot in an old people’s “senior citizens” community.

Because we’ve simply cheated ourselves, the whole way down the line.

We thought of life by analogy was a journey, was a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end.

And the thing was to get to that end.

Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.

But we missed the point the whole way along.

It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played.”

Alan Watts


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