Many powerful personal stories include an ironic twist—an unexpected resolution that feels true to life. Listeners want to know what it’s like to suffer defeat and rise from the ashes.
In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, the late Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs gave a first-hand account of that twist—and how losing his company was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Here’s a brief analysis of an excerpt from that speech:
SETUP – 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 to a 2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation—the Macintosh—a year earlier, and I had just turned 30.
INCITING INCIDENT – 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.
PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS – 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 [Silicon Valley].
INSIGHT – 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.
CLIMAX – 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.
RESOLUTION – 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 world’s 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 together at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
LESSON – 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.
Jesse Scinto, MS, DTM is a Fulbright scholar and deputy director of the strategic communication program at Columbia University in New York City. He’s also the founder/CEO of Public Sphere, a leadership communication firm, and a member of Greenspeakers Club in New York City.