Steve Jobs is dead, and one day you will be too. He would have wanted you to remember that, particularly as you walk down to UCS for that big McKinsey interview. He would have wanted you to take off that ridiculous suit and become a pirate.
Yes, a pirate. In the early days of Apple the iconography was everywhere — to the point where a Jolly Roger even flew over the company’s headquarters in 1983. “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy,” he would tell his coworkers, and it doesn’t take an iconic visionary to spot the modern “naval” recruiters on Yale campus as they rent out the Omni to coax eager Yalies into their firms.
It’s easy to understand why many Yale students choose to follow this path into finance and consulting, and why last weekend’s YDN article “Even Artichokes have Doubts” held such frighteningly high statistics. Life after Yale is frightfully uncertain, and Wall Street offers security. It offers you a six digit salary and a prestigious name on your resume, and all you have to do is work 16-hour days cleaning the captain’s cabin and creating basic level powerpoint presentations and excel spreadsheets.
But where’s the glory? Where is the sense that you are truly making a dent in the universe? I want a job where I can clearly point to the positive change that I’ve brought to the world, and I think deep down this is a fundamental human desire. We want to feel important and beneficial to the communities we interact in. Steve Jobs could wake up every morning knowing that Apple was enriching the lives of its millions of enthusiastic users, where Billy Bain or Jackie JPMorgan can only vaguely talk about increasing market liquidity. It isn’t tangible and it very often isn’t positive. Bottom line is that Goldman Sachs doesn’t need you. If you didn’t exist, your position would be filled with some other equally qualified Ivy League kid doing identical quality work. The alternate universe without your existence is indistinguishable.
What’s the alternative? Entrepreneurship. Give a pass to the established career paths and start your own company. Take a strike at that idea for a business that you’ve been holding in the back of your mind since sophomore year. Steve Jobs is the solution to the Artichoke’s dilemma. He took huge risks, wasn’t afraid to fail and changed the world. Why couldn’t it be you? I firmly believe that nearly every Yale student is intellectually and creatively capable of successfully starting their own company. All we need is the guts to go for it.
If money is a motivating factor, remember that Jobs was so rich he made Wall Street look like Teach for America. Here’s the difference: Even with all that money from Apple’s success, the nation doesn’t begrudge him for it. There isn’t an #occupysiliconvalley movement. People recognize his contributions to the world and agree that his compensation is earned.
There has never been a time in history where is it so easy to start your own business. The barriers of information and visibility have been shattered, leaving the door open for anyone with access to the internet and some chutzpah to change the world. Here at Yale there are promising signs of catching up with traditional centers of collegiate entrepreneurship like Harvard, MIT and Stanford. You can’t walk down High, Wall or York Street without seeing a student-founded storefront, and more Yalies signed up for HackYale classes than have graduated from the Computer Science department in its entire history. The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has similarly reported a sharp spike in the number of applicants for its student summer fellowship. More and more pirate flags have been popping up around campus, but we need a larger fleet if we are to fend off the Wall Street navy.
If you’re still not sure what you want to do after graduating, I would urge you to remember that the only certainty in your future is death. Reflecting on our utter impermanence is not merely an academic exercise for Shelly Kagan and his ilk, but one of the most powerful tools for career planning. There is no “Yale-after-Yale” — only an infinite number of possibilities and a ticking clock. As Steve Jobs put it in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech:
“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. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Perhaps your heart does tell you to become a consultant or investment banker, but I doubt that’s true for 25 percent of our campus. Jobs founded Apple when he was only 20 years old, and at the time it seemed like a terrible career decision. Let his story of adventure inspire you to make big moves and gamble your precious resume on a crazy idea. Join Steve on his pirate ship.
Michael Holkesvik is a junior in Timothy Dwight College and vice president of Yale Entreprenuerial Society. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.