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 that 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.
As Apple launches its new iphone this week, one of the key things that I remember about the brand is not its staggering list of products or the features behind them. However, I would like to write about the commencement speech that its founder, Steve Jobs had given at Stanford University on a sunny June afternoon in 2005.
Writing a good speech is truly an art form and while I have heard a number of speeches, no other speech has left an impact on me more than his. He did not need to use elaborate words or complicated theories, all he did was share his heartfelt take on his life and life itself.
Split into three simple stories, the first tells of “Connecting the Dots”, the second on “Love and Loss” while the third is about “Death”. Each story reveals a little bit about the enigma and events that have helped defined the man who leaves behind a conflicted legacy. As a result, he has inspired a slew of biographies, articles and movies on him with different perspectives on his work and life.
But I’m also not here to write about his life. Instead, I would like to share his third story on “Death” because he has spoken so eloquently on a subject matter that we fear the most. As I listened to his speech, I couldn’t help but wonder if today was my last day, what would I do? Or more importantly, if I could live as if everyday were my last, how would it dramatically change my life? While it may seem like an overstated question in today’s fast paced lifestyle, it is a question that is worth asking ourselves.
Now, of course this does not mean we should immediately stuff ourselves with Krispy Kreme sugar glazed donuts until we pass out (or go on a shopping spree that would put Kim Kardashian to shame!), but it is stripping down to the bare fact that life is short, and it is fragile. Nobody knows if we will wake up tomorrow nor will we know if we can live to our fullest potential.
I guess the main reason why I would ask myself if today was my last day is because I would like to know if I have any regrets. What scares me most is not the fear of failure but the fear of regret. Most of you might have already read and heard this speech many times but I hope that by sharing this again, it will be a simple reminder that we should not take our life for granted. For as long as we are still breathing, there is still a chance for us to do what we really want.
So thank you Steve Jobs, for a speech which puts it simply that in the end, we will all eventually fade away and die. Hopefully by knowing this, it will be a small step in shedding any of the fears that we have.
Below is the video which highlights his third story on “Death”, with scenes from the movie “Jobs”, played by Ashton Kutcher.
The speech with the third story on “Death”.
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 1960s, 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.