The Contradiction in Steve Jobs’ Famous Commencement Speech

In Steve Jobs' famous commencement speech at Stanford he said:

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.

Pretty standard advice: figure out what you love and then go do it.

Yet, earlier in the same speech, he talks about how he happened to go to Reed College and happened to take a calligraphy class and then happened to put his honed design eye to work when designing the Mac computer. In hindsight it fits together but as a college student he had no idea where it would lead. He says you can "only connect the dots looking backwards" — you have to live life and then find the connective meaning later.

So which is it? Should you live and do whatever is immediately available and then connect the dots looking backwards to create a personal narrative? Or should you focus out-of-the-gate on finding that golden thing that you love?

Does Jobs now love what he does? Yes. Was he telling himself at age 22 that he should focus on doing something he loves? No. Does Jobs love what he does because he's really, really good at it? Probably. Should his advice to young people be instead "get really, really good at something"? Maybe.

Bottom Line: Even though Steve Jobs' own life is a testament to randomness and stumbling upon a line of work around which he developed strong competence and then developed passion for it, to young people he puts the passion imperative first: "Go find out what you love to do and then do it."

(Thanks to Cal Newport for his on-going inspiration on this topic)

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