“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward”
– Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO, Stanford commencement speech
Steve Jobs delivered his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California on June, 12 2005.
In this speech he urged the attending student body – and millions upon millions of people who would later view the speech on YouTube – to find something they love in life, and then pursue it with reckless abandon.
He began the speech with a segment on his theory about “connecting the dots”.
He starts by telling a story about when he dropped out of college, so that he could take the classes that interested him rather than being forced to attend all the shitty required ones that did not.
After making this move, he stopped by a calligraphy class one day, and learned a bit about how to write using different, distinct styles.
Fast-forwarding ten years, Jobs recalls when he was preparing to release the first Macintosh computer.
Thinking back to his experience in that class, he made an interesting decision: to include different styles of writing – different fonts – as a feature in this new machine.
And so computer fonts – an innovation that’s still prevalent today – were born.
The point of this story is, of course, that if he’d never sat in on that random calligraphy class, he would never have been the pioneer who invented fonts… Not as early as he did, at least.
His purpose in making this point is that there was no way that he could’ve planned for this. He didn’t “connect the dots looking forward” and purposefully go to a calligraphy class so that he could later use the experience as inspiration to invent computer fonts.
He was only able to “connect the dots” looking backward because of a chance experience he had, no matter how irrelevant or unrelated it might have seemed on that fateful day he popped into that random class.
And this isn’t some trumped-up, ivy-league bullshit that only applies to famous creators like the great Steve Jobs. This is a basic fact of life for any creative and successful entrepreneur, no matter how big or small their vision may be.
There are some things that are simply better left un-planned. And this is truer than ever for entrepreneurs who mesh together different ideas from their pasts to create something new and innovative.
The fact is that the number of different disciplines and skills out there is growing exponentially by the day…and many successful new businesses exist because they’re able to piece different, seemingly unrelated concepts together gracefully.
My story and Dot #1
After re-watching this particular segment of Jobs’ speech while preparing to write this article, I reflected on the past few years of my life.
Just three years ago I was a recent college graduate, grinding it out at a 9-5 cubicle job, paying off student loans, like most of my peers. I was working as a software engineer. And this was definitely not something I was doing to “embrace my passions” or anything like that…
Well, not quite, at least.
Growing up I was always a nerd, you see. I built and fixed computers as a hobby, played way too many video games, and generally enjoyed time alone in front of a screen. And all of this interest in computers is what lead me to taking a bunch of computer science courses in college, interning at multiple software startups during my summer breaks, and then landing this particular job after graduation.
Switching gears, I’ve always been a very competitive athlete. Growing up, I played sports year-round, focusing on basketball and football, all the way through high-school.
Computers and sports pretty much defined my life, to be honest. Even in college, when I dropped the “traditional sports”, I competed nationally at the collegiate level on my school’s paintball and snowboarding teams.
My obsession with sports gradually turned into an obsession with fitness and bodybuilding when I graduated college, leaving these organized sports behind me…
I had never been much of a weight lifter, but I decided I wanted to “get big”. So I started tracking my caloric intake, following a strict training routine, and was able to pack on 40 pounds of muscle after a few years of doing so.
Switching gears one last time, the areas of women and dating was always something that scared the shit out of me.
I was so attached to sports and computers growing up that I never developed any sense of social confidence. Attending things like high school dances and college frat parties was NOT my type of night… To put it bluntly: I sucked with girls and I was a huge pussy around them.
I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 16. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 21. But when I graduated from college I finally resolved to “figure it all out”. I was a horny 22 year old who was dying to get laid with far greater frequency than I’d ever achieved… and I was ready to put in the work to get it done.
This led me to devouring self-improvement books about “pick-up”, “game”, confidence, goal-setting, and eventually business and entrepreneurship as well. I eventually connected with a group of guys my age who were also looking to go out and improve their “game”… and we proceeded to get after it every single weekend, going balls to the wall and approaching women en masse.
Soon things began to click, my social confidence reached new heights, I dated several different women, and I eventually settled into my first long term relationship.
How I connected these dots
It wasn’t until one boring day in the office that these three distinct storylines from my life – computers, women, and fitness – mixed together and began to synthesize something new.
I was sitting in my cubicle, staring at the ceiling, and counting the seconds until I could get the fuck out of there. Then, for whatever reason, something popped into my head and I decided I wanted to start a website, just for the hell of it.
I wanted to experiment with web-design and teach myself to be better using HTML, CSS, and PHP (three of the main programming languages used in web design these days)… This was my nerdy side speaking obviously.
But what type of website was I to create?
To make a long story shorter, I ended up buying a domain and creating this website. I began writing about the two things that had fascinated and challenged me over the last few years: building muscle and building confidence.
My programming knowledge allowed me to create a website and spend a bunch of time tweaking code to make it look flashy, my passion for fitness gave me an initial focus to research and write about, and my recent experiences with struggling to build confidence gave me something to be vulnerable about and really connect with my audience on a personal level.
As you can see, these three pillars – these three dots – are what allowed me to quit my 9-5, build an online following, start making money for myself, help other men, and do something that resembled “following my passion” for the first time in my life…
And this passion continues to fuel my website, my writing, and my life in general, to this very day.
But I never would’ve been able to create HowToBeast and accomplish any of this without first pursuing each of these distinct interests on their own… and without any agenda to use them for profit or take advantage of them in any way in the future.
I simply did each thing because I wanted to at that particular time in my life.
“You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”
The above quote is from Steve Jobs during the same speech…
And it’s the most crucial part of the whole speech…
Because it’s purely actionable advice.
If I took one thing from the speech THIS is it. And if you take one thing from this article, make sure THIS is it, too.
You must trust that following your passions now – and doing shit that you want to do now just because you feel like it – will pay off somehow, someway in the long run. The worst case is almost always that you spent time doing something that you enjoyed… Not a bad deal.
The best case is that it’s a critical “dot” in your life… a critical stepping stone to your success.
It just might be your version of Steve Jobs’ calligraphy class… or my obsession with computers.
It just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and allows you to create something fucking awesome in the future.
Again, Steve Jobs says it best:
“You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path… and that will make all the difference.”
Put your trust in something – whatever it might be for you – and accept the belief that everything you do now will have a higher purpose… A purpose that’s probably a lot bigger than you could possibly realize right now.
Don’t get caught up in what other people think about you – who gives a fuck. Do what interests you – and do it well.
Do shit that interests you… for its own sake
The simplest way to integrate this key principle into your life is to simply do shit that interests you… purely for the sake of doing it.
Want to learn a martial art? Do it. Who gives a fuck if there’s a payoff? Worst case you enjoy learning a new skill and are able to defend yourself if the shit hits the fan.
Want to self-publish a book? Do it. Who gives a fuck if there’s a payoff? Worst case you learn how to write and better communicate yourself.
Want to learn a programming language? Do it. Who gives a fuck if there’s a payoff? Worst case you learn some basic logical reasoning skills that help you better analyze future problems.
Want to learn how to cook intricate meals? Do it. Who gives a fuck if there’s a payoff? Worst case you learn something that you can use to setup a cool date in the future.
And best case for any of these things?
It’s a crucial puzzle piece in a new business venture… it changes your life.
Steve Jobs didn’t invent fonts because he beat himself up and pushed and pushed until it “came to him”.
I’m not even in the same universe as Steve Jobs in terms of innovation, but the internet business I built isn’t something I forced into existence.
Both of these things happened organically, because of things that were pursued only for the sake of pursuing them. When you do something you love, just for the hell of it, processes are put into motion that just might have bigger payoffs than you could imagine.
So get out there and try more things. Do more and more things… And when you like one of them, then do it more. Do it because you love it. Do it because it’s interesting and exciting. Do it for its own sake.
These are the things that you’ll enjoy doing. These are the things that will add value to your life… And they just might be one of the “dots” that come together in the future and change your life.