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.

Text of Steve Jobs’ Commencement address (2005)

Since Jobs’s death about a zillion TV programs and websites have featured these words from the 2005 Stanford address. I don’t really care for what Steve says here, and not just because of what Will Wilkinson says in the post I link to below.

The problem I have with Jobs’s address, and especially with this part of the address, is primarily this: He says nothing about the cost of pursuing one’s dreams. It’s true that a lot of people have unrealistic dreams — I’m glad I got over, quite early, my commitment to playing in the NBA — but even when they have dreams that they just might achieve, they invariably fail to understand, fail to come within a hundred miles of understanding, just how much achieving their aspirations will cost them.

The higher the aspiration, the more it will demand of you. Steve Jobs had very high aspirations indeed, and stuck with them, which is one of the main reasons why, by his own admission, he wasn’t around much for his kids: he has said that he cooperated with his biographer because “I wanted my kids to know me”.

But even lesser ambitions will often be costly. Anything really worth doing will take a lot of your time and energy, probably more than most people are willing to give. Which I why I don’t think commencement addresses ought to come in the “Follow your dream” flavor; or when they do, then the message needs to be “Follow your dream, but don’t be under any illusions about how hard it will be to achieve. Prepare to pay a heavy price. And you had better be ready to stop from time to time to count the cost, to decide whether the dream-following you’re doing today is something you’re deeply going to regret some years down the line.” Commencement addresses shouldn’t be discouraging, but they shouldn’t offer empty encouragement either.

And for my money the best commencement addresses are the challenging ones: the ones that tell young people the things that matter most and how hard they are to achieve. In this regard, David Foster Wallace’s much-quoted Kenyon address is everything Jobs’s isn’t.

(Prompted by a conversation on Twitter with my friend David Ryan.)