Everything else is secondary
Steve Jobs made a prediction; now it's coming true. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
It's been called the greatest graduation speech of all time: Steve Jobs at Stanford University.
"I never graduated from college," Jobs began that day in 2005. "Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation."
I've used this speech as a model many times, but it's only today, all these years after Jobs spoke, that I'm beginning to realize that the brutal prediction he made that day is, inevitably, coming true.
To see it in retrospect, you need to understand the speech itself:
The structure was perfect: "Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories."
The stories were poignant, detailed, and personal—and just short enough to leave you wanting more.
But the most important part of the speech came more than two-thirds of the way through, when Jobs talked about his battle with cancer, how close he'd come to death, and what it made him realize.
Let's quote him directly:
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.
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.
It's quite true indeed. Of course, the most obvious instance is the fact that Jobs -- who at the time of this speech thought he had beaten cancer, and that he wouldn't get so close to death again "for a few more decades," in fact had only a little over six years to live when he spoke.
But today, more than 17 years have passed since the speech, and everyone who was "new" that day—the graduates, the people who saw and read about the speech later, anyone—is considerably closer to the end of his or her story.
Many of the graduates that day were the traditional 22 years old as they finished college; they'll be turning 40 this year. (Jobs was only 50 when he spoke that day.) The world seemed to turn on how they and their fellow Millennials saw things; now people are focused more squarely on Generation Z.
(I'm Generation X, so I don't know where that leaves people my age; overlooked as always, I suppose.)
Stepping back, almost all of the technology we use, and the leaders we look to, had yet to come to the fore.
Barack Obama had only just been elected to the U.S. Senate.
Donald Trump was in his second year of hosting The Apprentice.
Twitter wouldn't start until the following year. Elon Musk wouldn't become CEO of Tesla for another three years.
Jobs wouldn't introduce the iPhone for another two years, and Facebook had only just opened up to the world beyond current college students.
Even YouTube, which is where more than 41 million people have watched this speech, was only a few months old, and wouldn't be acquired by Google for another year. (I've embedded the video at the end of this article.)
I'm open to the possibility that it's my experience of hitting a milestone age, 50, that makes me look back on this speech now, but it's a compelling reminder of just how quickly time passes, and how correct Jobs was when he talked about everyone eventually being cleared away to make room for someone else.
But it only makes everything else he had to say that day even more poignant:
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.
Looking forward, 17 years from now will be 2039. It seems like the distant future.
But it will be here sooner than any of us thinks.
7 other things worth knowing today
Once again, the IRS went after the poorest taxpayers in 2022. These audits are much cheaper than auditing higher taxpayers, but it's also worth noting that some laws giving tax breaks for lower income people actually require the IRS to spend a lot of time on auditing them. (Reason)
As a child of the 1980s, this is a surprise: A recent Gallup poll finds Nicaragua is the number-1 country in the world where residents feel "at peace with [their] thoughts and feelings." Rounding out the top 5: Uzbekistan, El Salvador, Panama, and Honduras. (CNBC)
A Swiss resort reported a radical effort to open trails and combat a lack of snow: Flying in snow by helicopter. (It didn't work.) (Switzerland Times)
Why was Roman concrete so durable? Riddle solved: a new study from MIT says it's the result of small white chunks called “lime clasts,” that were previously disregarded as sloppy workmanship, that was embedded in the materials. (MIT)
A newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks for the first time in 50,000 years, astronomers have said. For the Northern Hemisphere, it should be visible the last week of January, when the comet passes between the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations. (France 24)
Last summer, I shared an essay here by Cai Emmons, recounting how ALS had taken her voice and made her confront her mortality. Readers who found it compelling might want to know that Emmons ended her own life last week. The story is on her website. (Understandably, CaiEmmonsAuthor.com)
Thanks for reading. I wrote about some of this before for Inc.com. See you in the comments.