This week’s article is dedicated to all those who have just finished high school. A couple of years ago, I received a thought provoking e-mail from a friend, who thought I needed it more than he did.
It was a copy of a speech that was given by Steve Jobs to the graduating class at Stanford University. Before I go into what it was all about, here are a few quick definitions.
Steve Jobs founded Apple Inc., the company that produced the popular iPods. Stanford University is a prestigious university in the United States.
Usually after finishing high school, students tend to heave a sigh of relief. The promise of not having to study so hard for a while, is always very attractive.
However, after a few months that life becomes rather boring, and students are suddenly faced with a question that is exciting and at the same time frightening.
The question is, what will I do with my life? It is a question that many adults go through life without ever answering to their satisfaction.
American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once observed that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
That is why I want to talk about what Steve Jobs told that graduating class. He built his entire speech around three main points.
One, he talked about being able to join the dots. Two, he talked about love and loss and finally he concluded his speech with the reality of death.
At the age of 17, Steve Jobs dropped out of college. To many that would have seemed to be a foolish thing to do. His parents had worked hard and saved some money that would put him through college.
Half way through the first year, he discovered that he had no interest in the course that took him to college in the first place. So, he instead enrolled for a calligraphy course.
In his words “ it was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.” At the time, none of what he had learnt in the calligraphy course seemed practical but he took the course anyway.
However, ten years later as they were designing the first Macintosh computer, what he had learnt in that course came back.
As a result, Macintosh was the first computer with beautiful typography. He could never have understood it all at the age of 17.
The second story was about love and loss. When Steve Jobs was 20, he started Apple Inc. with a friend. They worked from their parents’ garage and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of them in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees.
At the height of his success, he lost his job due to corporate politics. He says it was very painful and embarrassing. At that low point in his life, he felt like doing only what is so natural to a dejected human being, and that was to run away from the Silicon Valley. He chose not to run, but to start all over again.
It so happened that his being fired from his job, was a blessing disguised. He says that it opened up one of the most creative periods in his life. Finally, Apple Inc. invited him back.
Finally, he talked about death.
In 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor’s prognosis was rather grim. But he survived to tell the tale.
My précis does no justice to what was a thought provoking speech. I would only ask you to look for it and read it.
But here are a few points that I learnt. One, as a young person you have to look forward to the future, by joining the dots from the past.
Where you excel, may perhaps not be the most lucrative, or prestigious, but it is the thing that would make you wake up every day and look forward to work with enthusiasm, with passion.
Sometimes, you may have to try a few things first before you hit on one that you would like to stick to. And once you have found it, keep the faith that it will succeed. For that faith is what would anchor you even when the sky is falling over your head.
The second lesson is that even when you succeed, life may sometimes hit you with a brick in the face. If that happens, don’t despair. Mourn if you have to but be willing to start over again. It may be that the best was still yet to come.
The third lesson has to do with being able to confront your own mortality. None of us is comfortable with the fact that one day we will not exist any more.
A common advice, often misapplied is that you should live each day as though it will be your last. One of these days, you will be right. It will be your last day.
That thought will always enable you determine what is truly important in life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Find what you love.
The writer is the Principal, Virunga Communication Centre, firstname.lastname@example.org