Here’s to the crazy ones. The mis­fits, the rebels. The trouble­makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things dif­fer­ently. They’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, dis­agree with them, glor­i­fy or vil­i­fy them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race for­ward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see geni­us. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

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 wife. 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.

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 worlds 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 needed it. 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.

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 oth­ers’ 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 1960’s, 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.

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