The CEO of Apple revealed his cancer diagnosis while advising graduating students to “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Steve Jobs gave this advice during his speech at Stanford University’s commencement in May 2005.
Jobs’ speech consisted of three personal stories. The first, he explains, is about connecting the dots from dropping out of college to the creation of Apple. In the second, he discusses being fired from his own company and how he later returned. Last, he talks about death and his cancer diagnosis.
Jobs’ biological mother, a graduate student, chose to put him up for adoption, feeling very strongly that his adoptive parents be college graduates. She refused to sign the final adoption papers when she found out that his adoptive mother never graduated from college and his adoptive father from high school. Jobs explains that “she finally relented a few months later when my parents promised I would someday go to college.”
Seventeen years later, Jobs said that they fulfilled that promise when he attended Reed College. He chose to drop out after six months because he “had no idea what [he] wanted to do with [his] life and no idea how college was going to help [him] figure it out.” With that, Jobs hung around as a drop-in for eighteen months and took classes that interested him, rather than the required classes.
“It wasn’t all romantic,” Jobs reminisces. During those eighteen months, he slept on the floors of his friend’s rooms and bought food with the five-cent deposits he received from returned coke bottles. On Sundays, he would walk seven miles to the Hare Krishna temple for a good meal.
Nevertheless, Jobs loved what he was doing, saying “much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.” For example, a calligraphy class he dropped in on later helped him design the first computer with multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts.
Of this, Jobs says “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.” Had he never dropped out of college and dropped in on that calligraphy class, computers would not be equipped with many of the fonts that they have now.
“My second story,” Jobs continues, “is about love and loss.”
Apple grew from his parents’ garage to a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees in the span of ten years. A year after releasing the Macintosh, Jobs had just turned thirty when he was fired from his own company. After hiring someone to run the company alongside him, Jobs explains that “our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out.” In the end, the Board of Directors sided with the other man.
Jobs elucidates on how public his failure became. He spent a few months clueless on where to go or what to do, but he realized that he still loved what he did. As Jobs explained, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever have happened to me.”
Over the course of the next five years, Jobs fell in love with a woman by the name of Laurene, whom he now has a family with. He began two companies: Pixar, which is now the most successful animation studio in the world, and NeXT, which was later bought out by Apple. With the turn of events, Jobs returned to his original company.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith,” Jobs persuades. “I’m convinced the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.”
Jobs’ final story depicts the prospect of death.
Approximately a year ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “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,” he said. With that burden weighing on his mind and on his shoulders, Jobs lived with the diagnosis throughout the course of his day.
Later that evening, Jobs partook in a biopsy. The doctors discovered that he actually had a rare form of cancer, one that could be cured with surgery. “I had the surgery,” Jobs announced, “and I’m fine now.” From this experience, Jobs became acutely aware that no one wants to die, death is inevitable, and time is limited.