Steve Jobs and Career Transition: A Lesson In Resilience

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS
Recently, the world lost an incredible innovator, inventor, marketer and amazing human being. We have learned many things from Steve Jobs. His ideas and innovations have touched us all in some fashion. Therefore, I think it is fitting to share some of his thoughts on career transition from a time in his life when he was unemployed. Yes, Steve Jobs was fired by his board of directors. That’s right, he was fired! In a speech he gave to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University, Jobs described what it was like to be terminated from Apple, how he handled his career transition and what he learned about working. The following is an excerpt of a part of this speech that was printed in Forbes online magazine in the Tech Section on October 5, 2011:

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 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 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.

In an earlier part of the speech, Jobs said, “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.

Even Steve Jobs experienced the same feelings that you may be feeling if you have lost your job. What had been the focus of his entire life at the time, Apple, was taken away from him and he was devastated. Sound familiar? In hindsight, he reflected that “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.” Connecting the dots, he was able to see that this period in time, while difficult, led him to an era of intense creativity.

When he felt like running away, he realized that he loved what he did. While he had been very publicly rejected, that love catapulted him to starting over and brought him into creating another company that has brought us innovation in the world of computer animation. His further description of how he looks back on that time should help serve as an inspiration. “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.”

If you take the love of what you do and try to think differently, outside the box, the sky is the limit as to where it may take you. Have faith and trust that you will be OK and unleash that which is inside you to transition to your next position. Have faith and trust yourself and your inner voice and let it take you to new heights.

I extend my sincerest condolences to the Jobs family. I hope that this excerpt from his speech provided insight into how a great man and leader dealt with his frustration and upset during a time of termination and unemployment. As always, please leave me a comment and let me know if this helped you. If you need help in transition, please feel free to contact me at lindavan@myexecutivecareercoach.com.

Every success,

-Linda

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