Think Different: Career Advice from Steve Jobs

Last Wednesday the world lost a visionary. Steve Jobs, Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Apple changed the way we live–how we use technology, engage with music and other forms of media, and communicate with others. Steve Jobs was a creative risk taker and someone who has always inspired me in my own career and life-planning.

In 2005, he gave Stanford’s commencement address. This speech changed my life and the direction of my own career path, and it’s something I refer back to often. As such, I wanted to share some of my favorite pieces of this address in hopes that it too will provide you with some clarity and motivation in your career planning and development.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. 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.”

I am a planner by nature and following my gut instinct has always been a challenge for me, as there is no tangible data to rationalize making a change. Once I stopped planning every move of my career path and started listening to my calling, everything regarding my career just started falling into place. If you feel something makes sense, it probably does. Although it’s sometimes scary to take a leap of faith, I can say that for me looking backwards, all of my dots have connected.

“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.”

In a previous post about assessment, I talked about the importance of figuring out who you are and linking your values, interests, personality, and skills to possible careers. This is exactly what Steve is saying. If you find a career that is a good fit for both the personal and professional you, you are more apt to be happy in your work and love what you do. You will be spending ~40 hours/week at a full-time job. That is way too much of your life to waste away if you are miserable there.

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’  And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

In 2007, I left a prestigious job in the music industry to return to graduate school so that I can do the work I do today with students and alumni. Did I love my job–yes. Did I enjoy my colleagues–yes. Was I challenged and supported–yes, and I had some amazing mentors to boot. Then why on earth would I leave? Something was missing. I wanted to give back. I wanted to help others. I wanted to spend the last day of my life, as Steve mentions above, making positive change happen. As such, I knew it was time to change something, and for me that something was my career path.

“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.”

For many job seekers, the opinions of others, such as family members, play a significant role in their career decisions. Although their opinions are important, you need to stay true to yourself and listen to your calling. Once you can identify who you are, make sure that you build a personal brand that is authentic. If you are not promoting and positioning yourself in an authentic way to employers, why bother? Make sure your inner voice is heard.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. A successful job seeker is both hungry and foolish. One stays hungry through regular networking, marketing of their personal brand, and applying for positions. One stays foolish by taking risks and thinking outside of the box in their job search. Maybe they reach out to an unknown contact or submit a non-traditional application for a job. In the end, staying foolish allows them to differentiate themselves from the competition.

This also applies to those holding current positions. For example, I stay hungry in my career by seeking out professional development opportunities, spearheading new initiatives in the office, and continuing to build out my network. I’m always looking to grow and develop.  I stay foolish by keeping an open mind and thinking outside of the box. No one knows everything, and I’m constantly learning from others. If I’m passionate about a project I’m working on and people think that I’m crazy/foolish for doing so,  I continue to work on it if it’s something I truly believe in.

Thank-you Steve Jobs for your powerful and inspirational advice. Your positive impact on the world spans generations and will never be forgotten. To view this commencement address in its entirety, click here.


Heather serves as a Career Advisor for Loyola University Chicago’s Career Development Center. In her role, she assists students and alumni with their overall career development through individual counseling, group workshops, and in the classroom via her Career and Life Planning Lab. Heather’s areas of expertise within the career space include networking, social media engagement, ePortfolios, resumes, and personal branding. Prior to working in Career Services, Heather worked for Sony Music in the areas of Marketing, Sales, and Promotion.She received her BA in Communication & Culture from Indiana University and her MA in Higher Education & Student Affairs from The Ohio State University – GO BUCKS! You can connect with Heather on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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