In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University.  It has since become a widely quoted speech and can be found on many internet sites. 

He told his audience that at the age of 17 he read a quote that went something like, “If you live everyday as if it were your last, some day you’ll be right.”  He went on to explain that for the next 33 years he looked in the mirror every morning and asked himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?  If the answer is ‘NO’ too many times in a row, I know I need to change something.”

What is the value of this routine?  He explained, “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.”

Steve Jobs had a reason for including these thoughts about death in his address.  In 2004, a year earlier, at the young age of 49, he stepped to the edge of that precipice for the first time.  He was diagnosed with a type of pancreatic cancer that was most likely incurable.  The doctors told him he probably had only three to six months to live.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a rare form of pancreatic cancer that could be cured by surgery.  He had the surgery and thought he was fine at the time he spoke at Stanford.  Having had some time for reflection, he told his audience, “This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades.”

Seven years have passed since Steve Jobs gave this stirring address.  By now, we know that his life has indeed come to an end.  He left a legacy of innovation matched by few others.  In the poignant sentences that concluded his remarks, he reached out with sage advice that should be tacked to the door of all those who are and aspire to be innovators:

“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.”