This post is part 3 of 11 in the series Remem­bering Steve Jobs.

From TED: At his June 12, 2005 Stan­ford Univer­sity commence­ment speech, Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple and Pixar, urges us to pursue our dreams and see the oppor­tu­ni­ties in life’s setbacks — including death itself.

I am honored to be with you today at your commence­ment from one of the finest univer­si­ties in the world. I never grad­u­ated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college grad­u­a­tion. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biolog­ical mother was a young, unwed college grad­uate student, and she decided to put me up for adop­tion. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college grad­u­ates, so every­thing was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unex­pected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biolog­ical mother later found out that my mother had never grad­u­ated from college and that my father had never grad­u­ated from high school. She refused to sign the final adop­tion papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expen­sive as Stan­ford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best deci­sions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin drop­ping in on the ones that looked inter­esting.

It wasn’t all romantic. 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 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stum­bled into by following my curiosity and intu­ition turned out to be price­less later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best callig­raphy instruc­tion in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beau­ti­fully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a callig­raphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif type­faces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combi­na­tions, about what makes great typog­raphy great. It was beau­tiful, histor­ical, artis­ti­cally subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fasci­nating.

None of this had even a hope of any prac­tical appli­ca­tion in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macin­tosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beau­tiful typog­raphy. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple type­faces or propor­tion­ally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this callig­raphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typog­raphy that they do. Of course 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.

Again, 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.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macin­tosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and even­tu­ally we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Direc­tors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devas­tating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous gener­a­tion of entre­pre­neurs down — that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apol­o­gize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. 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.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heav­i­ness of being successful was replaced by the light­ness of being a beginner again, less sure about every­thing. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful anima­tion studio in the world. In a remark­able turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the tech­nology we devel­oped at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renais­sance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medi­cine, but I guess the patient needed it. Some­times life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satis­fied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great rela­tion­ship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

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 its 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 1960’s, 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.

· Go to Steve Jobs: How to live before you die →