For me, there were several moments in Steve Job’s commencement speech that resonated deeply, and that I felt could be used to apply to my own life and the way in which I want to live it. Broadly speaking, these moments could be categorized in relation to the way in which Jobs speaks about life and the way in which he speaks about death. It is by discussing both of these in turn that I can best explain the effect that the speech had on me, and its relation to research surrounding the experience of death and how people approach it.

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To begin with, I struck by the way in which Jobs approached his speech and the way in which he spoke to the students, especially with regard to the humility he showed when stating that he himself did not actually graduate from college. For me, this humility, especially when it is coming from one of the most famously successful men in the world, was deeply moving, and it also served to provide a context within which the rest of Jobs’ speech could be understood and received. Alongside this humility, I was also deeply struck by the way in which Jobs spoke about his approach to education and to the way in which it worked for him.

Instead of simply following what he was told to do in order to pass a particular course, Jobs describes that he insisted on pursuing his own interests. This pursuit often meant that he was found himself doing things that many people would have considered to be a waste of time, however Jobs is able to show clearly and concisely how even the most seemingly superfluous elements of the things that he learned had an effect on his life and were employed him in the future. In this sense, Jobs directly challenges the belief that one should only treat education as a means or an instrument to reach a certain goal. Indeed, he shows that almost the opposite is the case, and an individual may become hugely successful as a result of the fact that they refused to instrumentalize their education.

As well as this, I was also struck by the manner in which Jobs spoke about failure, loss, and their capacity to move him on to greater things. Jobs speaks with humility about the time when he was fired from Apple at the age of 30, and he shows clearly that this event, although it was deeply shocking for him at the time, forced him to reassess his priorities in life and to actually come back stronger. I find this capacity to learn from failures and to come back stronger to deeply important and resonant.

Jobs also employs a similar kind of reasoning when he discusses his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer; something that first occurred only eighteen months prior to the video being given. Again, Jobs is able to show how the experience of a terminal diagnosis made him reassess all of his priorities and aims for the future, and actually meant that he was able to gain a clearer view on what he wanted and what was important in his life. I found this particularly effective, because Jobs is also very clear that death remains a deeply frightening thing which one cannot ever really understand. This is something that he clear makes when he draws attention to the jargon that the doctor uses following diagnosis compared to the actual meaning of the words themselves. In this way Jobs does not present himself as having managed to conquer his fear of death, but he shows that it is still possible to behave with courage and integrity in the fact of it.

In this way, Jobs’ speech can be seen to mirror key aspects of what psychological research is able to reveal about individual peoples’ attitudes towards death and their own experiences of it. In particular, he notes how the hugely powerful moment in which one’s understanding of death moves from an abstract knowledge that one will die at some point or other to the realization that death is imminent. In a recent study Wong & Tomer (2011) note that this gap between an intellectual understanding of death and the experience of it is considerably wider in the contemporary life, as people as frequently bombarded with images of death in the media, and in film and television.

This does not lead to any further understanding of death’s existential reality, however, and it can actually mean that people react with more and more denial when confronting it (2011, p. 103). Other studies have also noted that te refusal to actually face the inevitability of death once this has been made clear may have negative consequences on individuals’ health, as people who remain in denial do not take appropriate steps for either themselves or their families to deal with their death (Cozzolino et al. 2014, p. 420). In this sense, Jobs’ speech directly channels one of the most important things about the way in which people must relate to death and the importance of being able to cope with it.

For myself, my understanding of remains abstract and intellectual, and I do not have direct experience of either my own near death or that of people seriously close to me. However, having watched Jobs’ speech and understood the way in which death must be faced by all people, regardless of whether or not they feel prepared for it, I now feel that I will be better ready for a serious experience of it. Alongside this, I feel that I will now aim to live life by trusting in my instincts and desires with regard to what I wish to study and how I wish to spend my time. Although Jobs was famously unable to keep living for long after having made the speech in question, I still feel that its lessons and experiences resonate deeply.