“Stay hungry, stay foolish.” - Steve Jobs
It’s graduation season, but you don’t have to be graduating to soak in the amazing life advice doled out in commencement speeches. Here are three of the best speeches, and the advice therein, given by great thinkers and creators in recent years.
Sheryl Sandberg - Embracing Option B
After the FaceBook COO’s husband died suddenly on vacation, she was faced with a grief that left her dazed and powerless. This year’s commencement address at Berkeley was her first time speaking out about his death, and she talks with raw, honest emotion about the resilience and gratitude she eventually found in grief. She also encouraged students to embrace Plan B when Plan A crumbles.
She relayed a conversation she had with her friend Phil, who came to help one of her children with a Father-son activity. She cried to him saying, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around her and said, “Option A is not available. So let's just kick the shit out of option B.”
JK Rowling - The Benefit in Failure
Rowling doesn’t like the fairytale, rags-to-riches phoenix she has become in the press. But while she rails against poverty as an ignoble curse, she acknowledges that failure, “taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.”
She told the 2008 Harvard Graduates that after her own college graduation, she played it safe -- doing partly what she wanted and partly what her parents wanted. She doesn’t blame her parents for what ensued, but she says that, “... a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. ...I was the biggest failure I knew.”
She describes her time in poverty and failure, as a journey through a dark and horrible tunnel with no light in sight and no knowledge of the length to travel. Yet, she said, it was positively formative.
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. … I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Steve Jobs - Only Do What You Love
Steve told three stories to the graduates at Stanford in 2005. The first was a story to follow the often random dots that comprise the trail of your bliss. He spoke of his interest in calligraphy and time spent on this seemingly useless hobby only to relay that it was deeply influential in his design of typography in Macintosh software. His second story was about loss and failure and how having a love of work, a passion, carried him through his breakup with Apple.
His final story was about mortality. He had by this time spent two years battling pancreatic cancer and said, ““Remembering that are you going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
And this was the takeaway of the speech. Follow your heart and don’t settle for anything less. “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.”