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This is the Winter of Our Discontent

It’s a few weeks too early to engage in year end stock taking, but I will do so anyway. As look back on 2011, it’s clear that the contrast between my own good fortune and that of so many of my countrymen has never been so marked. This was the year that saw the publication of my book, the graduation of my son from college, the marriage of my youngest daughter, and, just yesterday, the close of FINCA Microfinance Holdings, which gives us $70 million in fresh capital with which to reach hundreds of thousands of new microentrepreneurs with the financial services they need to start or grow their businesses, and as a consequence better feed, clothe, shelter and educate their families.

Who could ask for more?

The first frost fell last night. We got the plants in from the deck just in time. The rest of the garden goes dormant for the next several months, to be reborn in the spring. You wonder if the plants and trees, on reflowering, harbor any memories of the previous years and seasons.

What a shame that mankind couldn’t have it’s own collective memory erased every winter, and make a fresh start each spring. Forget all the tribal, cultural, and political squabbles that hamstring our progress towards civilization, and take up the business of improving our lives with a clean slate.

Our own Killing Frost.

Warfare took another step into the 25th century today with the advent of tiny robots that our troops can throw over walls and thru windows in Iraq and Afghanistan to see who or what is waiting inside without having to storm in and risk being surprised by an IED or ambusher with an AK. Word has it that the only one not elated by this development was Cheney, who is concerned that it might reduce the need for boots on the ground and Halliburton non-compete contracts billed out at $1 million per solider per year.

But Cheney was quick to adapt: “Those robots will need things like oil, to keep them working properly, and in case you haven’t noticed, oil is not cheap! And robots, like people, suffer from battle fatigue and need to take R & R, and that costs money as well.” Cheney added that he thought a 300% markup was “more than reasonable”.

They also finally came out with lower body armor that protects, among other things, the family jewels. About time! At this rate, though, our troops will go into combat looking like Iron Man, covered from head to toe in kevlar. One has to wonder about the cost of all this, and whether it’s sustainable in the long run, especially if we compare our $1 million per soldier per year to the Taliban’s annual cost: 6 sheep plus three 100 kg bags of rice.

And then there is the question of whether we are even making the best use of this investment. An article in the Times said that our troops are getting frustrated at the lack of cooperation from the MilPak, who often sit back, observing from a few feet away, as Taliban operatives on their side of the border pump rockets into our forward fire bases. When we call up to complain they tell us “We haven’t observed anything.” 0ur troops aren’t allowed respond in kind because we might anger the Pakistan government.

This fine tradition of sending our troops into combat with one hand tied behind their backs began in Korea, and has continued on to this day. I remember when the first kid on our block in Levittown, NY, Billy Nolan, came back from a place called Vietnam in 1965 and told me “We could win tomorrow if the politicians would let us.”

Aug
27

I’m supposed to be in Maine right now with a lobster bib on, tucking into my first pint, but I have courageously opted instead to remain here in Washington, D.C., shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors as we stare down our first monster global-warming-is-a-hoax hurricane.

Oh, and my flight to Portland got cancelled.

As long as I’m here, I pledge to provide you with an eyewitness, on-the-scene accounts of each stage of the storm, in case you’d rather not get the blow-by-blow from the guy in the Barney-colored shirt and atrocious tie on the Weather Channel (to be fair, they don’t get to be on often, so he’s making the best of it, I guess).

Let me leave you with a really great speech that America’s Entrepreneur-Laureate, Steve Jobs, delivered to the graduating class of Stanford, in case you haven’t seen it yet. It’s brilliant and inspiring, as you might expect from a guy who truly will leave the world a better place. A little long for a websayito, but worth it.

“Find What You Love,” Steve Jobs’ at Stanford University
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, 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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. 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.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, 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.
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. 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. 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.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
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.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960′s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

First thing, Kim, you’ve got to promise not to be angry with me. I’m supposed to go on a family vacation tomorrow, and while I told them, no, absolutely not until after Saturday, my wife put her foot down and so I’m going to have to get on that plane tomorrow afternoon which means — sigh — I’m not going to be there for you on your Special Day.

Can I take my hands off my ears now? Have you stopped cursing me yet?

And speaking of family, Wow, talk about guilt tripping me. Here you throw the Jenners over the side to make room for me, Ellen and the rest of the Last Minute Celebs, and how do I repay you? I do the no-show dance. I hope, in time, you can forgive me.

But I sooooooo totally get it, and maybe one day the Jenners will, too. (And how about this for the next episode of “Keeping Up”? The Jenners sit around the house, sulking b/c they got disinvited. Slammin’, no?) And I actually hacked into your call with Ellen, using the technology the Other Rupert shared with me, which I will reproduce for my readers b/c I know they will sooooooo totally get it, too:

E: So, where’s my invite?
K: Uhhhhhhhhh. invite?
E: Don’t play dumb with me, Miss Fairytale Wedding-of-the-Century Bride. Listen: You are “Up” now, but one day you will be Soooooooo “Down”. And that’s when you will appreciate a “Where are they now?” shot on my show. Dig it?
K: Okay, Okay! You made the list, all right? (And after Ellen hung up, K muttered the “b” word)

Oh, Kim, and one other thing: What’s up with the THREE Vera Wangs? I mean, aren’t you going to be a little warm with three layers of lace? It’s August, girl, whaddayuthinkin’? The only explanation I could come up with was a) you discovered that there two other Fairytale Weddings in H-wood planned for tomorrow so you bought up those dresses, which I totally soooooo get, b) you’re going to keep us guessing as to which you choose at the last minute, c) you’re going to do a pole dance during the ceremony?

Oh, and Kim, a little advice from someone who has been married for 27 years: Every once and a while, clear the reporters out of the room.

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