Staying hungry, staying foolish? Not quite.

Awhile back, I wrote that I would be exploring the 21st century student and how such a student differs from those that preceded him or her. So, let’s get this conversation started. 

Many years ago, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivered a commencement address at Stanford University, during which he told the students to, “Stay hungry, stay foolish” when it came to choosing a career path and entering the real world. While some people may have misinterpreted his use of the word “foolish” and thought of its negative denotation, what he meant was that sometimes, one has to be foolish and take risks – as he did with Apple – in the search for fulfillment. The mere thought of risk-taking does not sound appealing to many people, but Jobs didn’t let that stop him from forming one of the most powerful companies in the entire world. He was foolish for even considering he could build a personal computer, but look what his foolishness did? 

The reason I bring that story up: as I think about today’s students, I truly wonder how “foolish” (as in Steve Jobs foolish) they truly are. Are they risk takers? Do they put themselves in situations where failure could make them look unwise but where success could elevate them to the status of genius? I don’t know about the first question, but from what I’ve seen over the past few years, I would have to answer, rather unequivocally, “NO” to the second question. 

Today’s typical student does not want to look foolish in any way, shape, or form. Foolishness, for most students, always results in failure, and that simply is not an option. To take the Jobs idea even further, students want full bellies and loathe the idea of any sort of “hunger” in life. A full belly guarantees *something* will always be present, hence no need for hunger or for foolishness. Where yesterday’s students were willing to step out on the ledge and take calculated risks in the name of success, I am willing to be that most 21st century students would rather have the path laid out in front of them and, to counter Robert Frost, take the road MOST traveled. While that path may not lead to a unique result, it is taken so often because it’s safe and lacks any sort of foolishness. I have had students tell me that they fear failure and that they make decisions to avoid failure (and foolishness) altogether. Can anything totally be avoided? Of course not – but for them, there’s a clear safe route that makes the most sense.  

And that’s a crying shame.

The worst part, however, is that most students know they lack the foolishness and the hunger, and that’s just fine with them. Somehow, some way, they have learned that to be hungry and to be foolish is to be a failure, and to them, the world spits on failure (it doesn’t, by the way). Did these students learn this in school? Perhaps…and that’s another blog entry for another time. Did they pick this up at home? Again, another entry for another time. In any case, the chances are not great that that they will heed the words of Steve Jobs. 

I hope that as this new breed of students enters college and the work world, they find out how foolishness and hunger can help them soar. Sadly, I don’t think that will be the case, but I guess I can’t blame them when they’re constantly reminded that they shouldn’t do anything on an empty stomach because, well, that’s just foolish. 

Tell that to the next Steve Jobs.