Steve Jobs (1955-2011): You can only connect the dots looking backwards

Contemplatively, I just watched the commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005.  It’s very moving and profound, to say the least.  In it, he talks about his brush with death, how he hopes to live another 20 or 30 years, and shares some of the most profound lessons of his life.



Like many, I’m struck by the tragedy we all feel at losing someone so innovative, so extraordinary … so young.  In spite of all his amazing contributions to modern culture, I’m wondering, Did we receive all of his gifts? A heavy thought to ponder, no doubt.  But one thing is certain: he lived to give them.  An intense, driven creator, there’s no question that he lived his life as one committed to giving us all that he had–and he took a lot of heat for it.

My colleague, Lori Collins, pointed out what is sure to be remembered as the most profound part of his speech:

“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 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.”

The chills are relentless as I contemplate the gravity of his observation, the unchanging reality that he is gone forever. I’m thinking of the times I wallow in my own selfish self-pity when contemplating a next move, or weighing the risk-reward of showing up authentically, of risking rejection, of (god-forbid) being a total failure at something I care about succeeding at deeply.

When reflecting on his life, he profoundly reveals:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. 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… because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

Every week, I talk to amazing professionals who are struggling to figure out their next move, trying to make sense of their path, digging deep in hopes of hitting inspiration or courage to fuel the next leg of their journey.  These people are incredibly creative, loving, giving souls who have been given really special gifts which often are considered “unconventional.” They don’t quite fit into the current molds and models of society, so giving these gifts requires courage and heart, passion and conviction, and FAITH that this journey is the right one, that everything will pay off in the end.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the ttrap of thinking you ahve somethign to lose. You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.  And thank you.



Over a decade ago, Misty started Strategic Marketing Solutions, a boutique marketing firm dedicated to helping independent professional grow profitable, sustainable businesses that gave them the opportunity to do the work they love while contributing meaningfully to the world. Her background in artist management and marketing give her a unique perspective on the gritty, everyday business-management challenges that speakers, authors, coaches and trainers face when growing their businesses.