Steve Jobs’ Lessons for Caregivers

Anne-Marie Botek,

What can a caregiver learn from a commencement speech?

(Particularly when that speech was delivered by a technology icon to thousands of young adults, graduating from one of the world’s most celebrated institutions of higher education).

The obvious answer may seem to be “nothing.”

After all, the majority of caregivers are many years removed from their last graduation. Life has the unfortunate ability to dull the messages of hope and promise infused in commencement speeches. As time passes, life’s inevitable losses add up, and youthful optimism gives way under the daunting assault of reality.

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But, the recent death of Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, has caused many to recall the powerful messages contained in his 2005 address to a group of Stanford graduates—messages which transcend age brackets and demographics, aiming at the essence of human existence.

Even people caring for an elderly loved one can benefit from being reminded of some of these lessons—even though they came from the mouth of a man barely old enough to join AARP.

In his address, Jobs discusses three main concepts of great import to recent college graduates; death, love and loss, and the connectedness of life.

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Courtesy of Steve Jobs, A Caregiver’s Commencement Speech originally appeared on

Now, trying to educate a caregiver about love, loss, and death would be insultingly presumptuous to say the least. If you’re caring for an elderly person, then you are already intimately familiar with the fragility of life and the crushing reality of loss.

No, for a caregiver, the most relevant element of Jobs’ speech is undoubtedly his message about “connecting the dots.” During his address, Jobs discusses the winding, bramble-covered path that led him to his current position. In one of the most poignant statements of the entire address, he says, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

This point is as true for caregivers as it is for business moguls—maybe even more so.

Caring for an elderly person is a task rife with pain and difficulty and, when you’re in the weeds, it can be impossible to see how things are ever going to work out.

It is during these times—when a dementia-stricken elderly parent is hitting and screaming at you while you’re changing your umpteenth adult diaper—that knowing the dots in your life will eventually connect is most important.

They may not connect in the way you originally envisioned on your graduation day. Your picture may have awkward lines, painful smudges, and obvious eraser marks, but it is yours. Learning to appreciate that picture, despite its flaws, can be a freeing revelation for any caregiver.

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Courtesy of Steve Jobs, A Caregiver’s Commencement Speech originally appeared on


Lorraine A.
Lorraine A7 years ago

I am the woman who fell off the carousel of "things working as they should". Severe autoimmune disease has robbed me of pain-free days, walking, sitting, standing, traveling, writing, dancing, working ironically in health care...I cobble together each day with what I can from a stunned husband, learning disabled adult son, limited income, reluctant health insurance, & near complete denial from everyone I have ever relied upon, including myself. I am completely open to where the white-water rapids take me each day..sometimes it's a hot meal from a developing country entrepreneur, sometimes I invent a new device to change my own adult diaper...My Everest is keeping clean, nourished, alert, and forgiving, even of myself.

Debbie Wasko
Past Member 7 years ago

CINDY S. OCT. 12, 2011 1:26 pm ..


Learning to appreciate what is, despite flaws on both sides, brings to common ground reality matters of love-loss-death.

Much different perspective for the caregiver than the cared-for, both valid and need to be dealt with.



Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran7 years ago


Joy Wong
Joy W7 years ago

Thank you for the post.

Lionel G.
Lionel G.7 years ago

About connecting the dots, I had often thought of my life path as having been haphazard and aimless, until one day on an impulse I decided to write a mission statement for myself, I had no outline or plan, just let my fingers start hitting the keyboard. A few minutes later, when I read what I'd written, it surprised the hell out of me. My random wanderings had all led, with no intent on my part, directly and in what looked like purposeful ways to what I had just "discovered" to be my mission. It all made sense as if it had been carefully thought out, though it was not. I think each person's subconscious knows far more than we ever grasp at the conscious level. There's also another facet to this. Carl Jung theorized about a collective unconscious. I once heard a talk by astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. He said individual consciousness is an illusion; we are all plugged into a universal consciousness. When I was writing my novel I never once had the feeling I was creating it. I was seeing it play out as if on an imaginary wide screen and I was recording what I saw as fast as I could type: It was writing itself. This was one more instance of a lesson I think I may have learned: You have to lose yourself before you can find yourself.

june t.
reft h7 years ago

thanks for the article

Lynn C.
Past Member 7 years ago

Whew. Thanks for the reminder and I had no idea Jobs was so 'tuned in". What I say to myself is "think about the alternative" which would be some nursing home and my parents old age a misery. Then it becomes a no-brainer.

Mitchell Sternbach

Andy Reed- you need therapy. Cut the crap about Steve jobs being on you and your lunatic group's "Enemies List." Reality isn't pretty- Jobs and Apple have done more for this country than any politician alive, so find another target. Surely there are planty enough to choose from- even deserving ones.

Julia R.
Julia R7 years ago

This is very good advice for all of us to remember. None of our lives ever go in a direct path. Sometimes they're circuitous and they branch off in many directions. So we keep on plodding along and follow a sort of internal compass- maybe another word for intuition. And somehow if we keep on going, guided by this intuition, we do find purpose, meaning, and our bliss- or what we were meant to do.
I think Steve Job's speech shows what a wise person he was. Because then when we look back in retrospect, it all makes sense. But, I think the wisdom here is that we have to follow our intuition and a strong feeling within about what will make us happy and what our unique contribution to the world will be.