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Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Steve Jobs was one of the great innovators of our time, yet he never finished college. For Jobs, dropping out taught him more than staying in school ever could. For some people, that’s just the way it goes. As he told Stanford students in a 2005 commencement speech,

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.

Students thinking of taking Jobs’ advice should think hard.  For Jobs, dropping out wasn’t an excuse to spend more quality time with his TV; it was an option that freed him up to focus with even more intensity on getting an education.  It’s why I decided not to go to grad school: not to read and study fewer important books, but to read more of them and read them harder.

I am 100 percent against dropping out, in the sense of leaving formal education to take up a full time career as a couch potato.  I favor dropping in: dropping in on the most exciting and dynamic learning experiences you can find, whether those are in or out of formal school programs.

In school or out, young people should live and learn with intensity, making the most of these wonderful years when your curiosity is hot and your time is your own.  And if you are lucky, you will find that your youthful passion for learning translates, as it did for Steve Jobs and as it does for many others, into a lifelong love affair with work and with knowledge that endlessly intrigues and delights you even as it allows you to contribute your bit to make this a better world.

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  • John Foster

    Megan McArdle at The Atlantic has a good caveat today to Jobs’ “Follow Your Bliss”:

  • ms

    I listened to Jobs’ speech online and liked it, but I’m not entirely sure his follow-your-passion advice is best for every young person. Sure, Jobs was brilliant and creative. We have all benefitted from his contributions, but everyone is not the same. Many less brilliant people do all kinds of work that perhaps isn’t creative or even that satisfying, but nevertheless needs to be done. Hopefully most people follow a passion in some aspect of their lives, but it might very well be a hobby and not the way you make a living. The point is that Steve Jobs’ path was one way to live a life, but not the path for most of us, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Jimmy J.

    As a student, I studied petroleum geology because it was a profession that took one out of doors. I was not that good at it. When I went into the Navy to fulfill my military obligation, the Navy needed pilots. Because of the needs of the service I ended up in flight training and discovered my calling. Thirty-eight years as a pilot. It never seemed like a job. Not everyone is as fortunate, but everyone should take pride in doing whatever their abilities allow them to do that earns their daily bread.

    Now in the twilight of life, I have come to the realization that very few of us make as big a difference in the scheme of things as Steve Jobs did. However, each person who works to improve his lot and that of his family and friends is an important cog in the wheel of life and is what keeps the wheels of our society turning. No one who does his/her best at their job is unimportant.

    Retirement has been a joy because I have had the time to try to learn much more about everything. So much to learn, so little time. It keeps me occupied. Would that I had been this curious as a student. Making up for lost time now.

  • Jim.

    The lesson here is that *having* passion, and being able to apply it to your work, is what makes life stories like Jobs’ possible.

    Being cool, “having a life”, taking it easy, not being so obsessive — these are far more destructive pieces of advice than most people realize.

    New frontiers are created by the obsessively interested. Once that level of fascination is achieved, difficult and incredibly important things follow easily — scrupulous attention to detail, the will to work long hours, the desire to go above and beyond.

    The answer is not “follow your passion”. The answer is “Be passionate.”

  • RedWell

    Mead’s last paragraph says it all: “if you are lucky.”

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