Go forth and conquer … Steve Jobs to JK Rowling, Elon Musk to Sheryl Sandberg … What would you say to new graduates?

April 1, 2020

Steve Jobs said “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

In a remarkably personal address, the Apple founder and CEO advised graduates to live each day as if it were their last.

“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,” he said. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier.

“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 truly important,” he continued. “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.”

Jobs said this mindset will make you understand the importance of your work. “And the only way to do great work is to love what you do,” he said. “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.”

Settling means giving in to someone else’s vision of your life — a temptation Jobs warned against. “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.”

JK Rowling said “it is impossible to live without failing at something.”

The author of the “Harry Potter” series told Harvard’s class of 2008 about the dark period she experienced before achieving success. “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. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew,” Rowling said.

But when she was at the bottom, she realized that her life went on, and she decided to press forward. “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable,” she said. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.

“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned,” she said.

Tim Cook said “call upon your grit. Try something.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the 2019 commencement speech for the graduates of Tulane University, offering valuable advice on success.

“We forget sometimes that our preexisting beliefs have their own force of gravity,” Cook said. “Today, certain algorithms pull toward you the things you already know, believe, or like, and they push away everything else. Push back.”

“You may succeed. You may fail. But make it your life’s work to remake the world because there is nothing more beautiful or more worthwhile than working to leave something better for humanity.”

Sheryl Sandberg said “not everything that happens to us happens because of us.”

During the Facebook COO’s deeply personal commencement speech about resilience at UC Berkeley, she spoke on how understanding the three Ps that largely determine our ability to deal with setbacks helped her cope with the loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg.

She outlined the three Ps as:

  • Personalization: Whether you believe an event is your fault.
  • Pervasiveness: Whether you believe an event will affect all areas of your life.
  • Permanence: How long you think the negative feelings will last.

“This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us,” Sandberg said about personalization. It took understanding this for Sandberg to accept that she couldn’t have prevented her husband’s death. “His doctors had not identified his coronary artery disease. I was an economics major; how could I have?”

Stephen Spielberg said “your job is to create a world that lasts forever.”

“This world is full of monsters,” director Steven Spielberg told Harvard graduates, and it’s the next generation’s job to vanquish them.

“My job is to create a world that lasts two hours. Your job is to create a world that lasts forever,” he said.

These monsters manifest themselves as racism, homophobia, and ethnic, class, political, and religious hatred, he said, noting that there is no difference between them: “It is all one big hate.”

Spielberg said that hate is born of an “us versus them” mentality, and thinking instead about people as “we” requires replacing fear with curiosity.

“‘Us’ and ‘them’ will find the ‘we’ by connecting with each other, and by believing that we’re members of the same tribe, and by feeling empathy for every soul,” he said.

Shonda Rhimes said “ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”

American TV producer told grads at Dartmouth to stop dreaming and start doing.

The world has plenty of dreamers, she said. “And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.” She pushed grads to be thosepeople.

“Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer,” she advised — whether or not you know what your “passion” might be. “The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real,” she said.

Gallery of Commencement Speeches

Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005:

 

Elon Musk at Caltech in 2012:

JK Rowling at Harvard in 2013:

Bill and Melinda Gates at Stanford in 2014:

Shonda Rhimes at Dartmouth in 2014:

Matt Damon at MIT in 2016:

Barack Obama at Howard in 2016:

Donavan Livingston at Harvard in 2016:

Sheryl Sandberg at Berkeley in 2017:

Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard in 2017:

And a montage, of a few more themes: