Nine years and 19 million YouTube views later, Steve Jobs's commencement address to Stanford University's graduating class of 2005 has achieved iconic status.
Jobs, the Apple visionary who died in 2011 at age 56, delivered a speech that resonated far beyond the Stanford audience, with a masterful mix of personal anecdotes, sparks of insight and universally applicable pieces of wisdom. Each year, especially around graduation season, people discover and rediscover Jobs's speech and its messages for those who seek meaning and purpose in life and at work.
The speech is perhaps most relevant to Millennials, who live in a world Jobs helped create -- a world in which young people increasingly look to non-traditional and entrepreneurial career paths (not to mention a world dominated by Apple products). The overwhelming viral response to the commencement address is a testament to just how much of a mark Jobs left on the world, and especially on young aspiring innovators.
As the youth marketing company Ypulse noted, Jobs was a living manifestation of the spirit of innovation that characterizes the Millennial generation.
And as Walter Isaacson, Jobs's biographer, wrote in the New York Times: "He was the most innovative and successful business leader of our era and embodied the Silicon Valley dream writ large: he created a start-up in his parents’ garage and built it into the world’s most valuable company."
Jobs's now-famous Stanford speech crystallized many of the fundamental lessons of his life and work, and it's worth revisiting, no matter what life or career stage you're in. Here are the five most important life lessons from Jobs's classic commencement address.
The road to success isn't linear.
Many successful people -- from Abraham Lincoln to Oprah -- have argued that failure isn't something to be feared or avoided; it's actually a crucial component of success. Jobs faced many failures and setbacks on his road to success, but he used those experiences to fuel the fire of his ambition and create new opportunities for himself.
In his Stanford speech, Jobs is quick to note: "I never graduated from college." Dropping out six months after arriving at Reed College, Jobs says, was one of the best decisions he ever made. But it didn't always feel like that at the time.
"It wasn't all romantic," he says. "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 seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple... much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on."
The unique skills Jobs picked up after dropping out of college ended up being invaluable to his future success. He sat in on calligraphy classes, which gave him an aptitude for typography that would later become one of Apple's signature strengths.
Finding what you love is the most important task of a lifetime.
If there's one message to take away from Jobs's address, it's that you must do anything and everything to find what you love, both in your work and in your relationships. Finding and doing what you love will energize your life every day and give you the patience and determination to turn your failures into opportunities.
"Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick," Jobs says. "Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did."
Jobs explains that he was lucky to find what he loved to do early in life. His love for his work helped him get through the darkest time in his career -- being publicly fired from Apple -- the company he himself had launched -- at the age of 30.
"I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley," Jobs says. "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."
Getting fired, he notes, also led Jobs to find the love of his life -- not bad for a "public failure."
Know that the universe has your back.
As the Sufi poet Rumi once advised, we'd all do well to behave as if life rigged in our favor.
Although he didn't see it at the time, Jobs says that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him. The experience helped him to realize that setbacks are often blessings in disguise, and that life has a way of working out in our favor.
Jobs told the class of 2005:
"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."
Live like you're dying.
Contemplating death isn't morbid -- it can, in fact, give greater meaning to your life, says Jobs, and help you to remember what's important.
As Jobs puts it:
"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."
Death is life's "change agent," says Jobs, which helps us to clear out the things that are no longer serving us to make way for the new.
Follow your own path.
If there's any one secret to Jobs's success, it's that he was true to himself and his own vision. He encouraged Stanford graduates to find their own inner truths and follow them:
"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."