Guru

10.11.11

What Steve Jobs Taught Me

The Stanford student who picked Steve Jobs as a commencement speaker reflects on what the famous speech means to him.

After two years of writing for the Fox television show Family Guy, I was out. I had written two episodes of the sitcom, had contributed jokes and stories, and had overconditioned my hair so that it would remain adequately hydrated through late-night rewrites. But after the ninth season of the show, for reasons I could and could not control, my contract wasn't renewed. I was out. But more important, I felt like I failed. 
 
Six years prior, I was sitting in the middle of Stanford Stadium. I was part of Stanford's graduating class of 2005, and Steve Jobs was our commencement speaker. Full disclosure: I helped pick him. As a senior class president, it was part of my job to help select the speaker. When he accepted, we were ecstatic. 
 
And an even fuller disclosure: I kinda knew Steve Jobs. I hadn’t met him, but for years my father has worked at Pixar. That hopping lamp that appears before every Pixar film? The logo? It's based on me as a baby. Really. The Los Angeles Times mentioned me recently, meriting a congratulatory Facebook post from my girlfriend—that’s a high-octane afternoon for an unemployed guy! So when I told you I'm no longer with Family Guy—don't be too sad, I've led a very fortunate life, in part because I am a beneficiary of Steve Jobs's successes.

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And you know Steve Jobs's successes. That’s what my classmates and I expected him to talk about. But he told three stories about failure. 
 
His first story was why he dropped out of college. He didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, and didn't know how college was going to help him. So he dropped out, exploring only the few classes that interested him; he took calligraphy. Only by "connecting the dots" later in life was he able to see that when he built the first Mac, he used that calligraphy to design the font that you may be reading right now. 
 
His second story was about loss. Apple, the company he cofounded, fired him at 30. Only by taking that time away was he able to realize he really did love what he was doing; he was able to start Pixar, and he was able to relaunch himself into Apple when it purchased NeXT. He rededicated himself to his life's work. "I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over."

A Stanford grad remembers Steve Jobs's commencement speech.

His last story was about death. Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and in going through the ordeal, learned the value of death: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life … And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

I’m not good with failure. All else being equal, I’d rather just put product in my hair, sit back, and pitch a Stewie joke because everyone loves Stewie. But that’s gone. I have to find the next step of my life, because it won’t be on the back of a cartoon infant.

Weeks ago, Steve Jobs announced that he would be stepping down as Apple's CEO. And now the world has learned tragic news: he has passed away.

I sit alone in my apartment, storyboards taped on my wall. With Family Guy's characters no longer in my head, I wrote the TV pilot I've wanted to write for years, studied the scripts that have changed my life, and watched the movies I was unable to before. I may have been rejected, but I’m still in love. Now I’m ready to start over.

Steve Jobs concluded his speech by wishing my class to follow the advice he always wished for himself, advice he once saw on the final issue of a favorite publication, The Whole Earth Catalog: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." I'm hungry. I'm foolish. And hell, if that shaggy-haired dropout can have such an influential, inspiring, and successful life, then so can I.