And he did it all in a relatively short time. Consider: Jobs was born in 1955. He and Steve Wozniak started Apple in 1976. Everyone looks at Apple’s mind-blowing triumphs, but before finding its monstrous, magical niche, the company endured its share of ups and downs. Little more than three decades, no matter how action-packed, is an awful short period in which to forever transform the planet. But that is exactly what Apple, under Jobs’s relentless and insightful direction, did.
However, at his passing, Jobs left behind something more powerful or revolutionary than any product he or Apple ever developed.
He left us that speech.
By now you might have heard or read some part of the address Jobs gave at a 2005 Stanford University commencement. Despite its weight, the speech wasn’t heard much outside that ceremony or beyond Jobs’s cult of devotees.
Then, on October 5th at the age of 56, Jobs passed away and video snippets from the Stanford speech began playing on national television news programs. Almost immediately, people who never heard of Jobs and don’t own Apple products began Tweeting and texting about the speech; posting it on websites and Facebook pages, using certain lines as slogans on T-shirts. Hip hoppers sampled Jobs and put a beat to it. The fiery contents of his speech spread like wildfire–or gossip in a popular chain email.
During his talk, Jobs addresses three events that presented him life-altering challenges–his decision to drop out of college; being unceremoniously ousted from Apple, his own damn company, in 1985 (he returned to Apple in 1996) and a then seemingly death-defying battle with pancreatic cancer.
It is a stark and striking soliloquy about fear, failure and death; how those things propelled Jobs’s incredible success and ultimately inspired his redefinition of the term altogether. Which means Jobs’s candid, contemplative oration is equally about the power of personal faith, optimism, commitment and daring to think differently.
Jobs was a towering titan of modern industry with a personal wealth of almost ten billion. Yet his poignant Stanford address speaks to everyone. If you wonder what you are going to do with the rest of your life, this speech is for you. If you going through a divorce, you need to hear this.
If you are ill, let Jobs’s brilliant monologue be your emotional medicine. If you are unemployed and looking for work, parts of this speech should be your mantra.
Parents should share these words with their children; teachers should share this speech with their students. And if you are accomplished and consider yourself a success, you might want to reconsider. Jobs is talking to us all. He is talking to you.
From the speech: “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.”
It is both ironic and fitting that with his speech, Jobs, hailed as an inventor, didn’t invent anything. The kind of thinking encouraged in the Stanford address has been around since the beginning of time, passed on through various religions, spiritual movements and a million self-help books.
But knowing that what Jobs professes has been road-tested by someone as accomplished as Jobs himself–which is how he came upon this declaration in the first place–give Jobs’s words even more power and authority.
Do yourself a favor. Go online and find Jobs’s speech. You can watch him read it on video or you can find a printed version and read it yourself. No matter the configuration, get Jobs’s quietly soul-shaking prose inside of your system. Share it with your family and friends and strangers. Return to it over and again.
And then raise your sword to your demons with the clear and absolute understanding that you have nothing to lose ever again and everything to gain, all of it already belonging to you.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].