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“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” a great phrase from a great Man – what does it mean?

Well – what I have here is an opportunity to do what I love!  Why?  Because, I What’s in a name?  Let’s debate it again! and got sent in an entire different direction.  You can thank  / blame this one on Kumud Singh, because as usual she brordens my thinking.  She opens my mind to different possibilities.  So much so that I had to share with all of you.  In other words my comment was so long it became a blog.

What is your definition?  Think about it and Comment.

So what do the words “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” mean to you?  Start thinking about it.  There is no “right” or “wrong” answer.  That’s the great thing!  These words mean something different to everyone who hears / reads about them.

Here’s what the words meant to me prior to outside influence

Prior to looking them up on the internet, and getting different ansswers about the meaning from different sources.  I thought about the words and here’s what came to mind.

A “surfer” or someone who just wants to have fun doing fun things living with the minimum amount of food, shelter does not have a care in the world.  They are hungry.  Why?  Because they never really take the time to eat or they don’t have the money to eat.    They are foolish by the general public.  Why would you ever want to live that way?  It would be day to day without really knowing where or when your next meal will be.  It may be a case where you have to stay in shelters, because you don’t have enough money.  Well that was my first thought.  Interestingly – it is sort of like my final thought.

My definition after reading the speech

So since, I honestly didn’t hear the speech or didn’t remember it if I did.  I did some research.  I looked all over the web for answers.  I read some different articles.  I read the actual speech.  I read different opinions.  (And there were a lot of different opinions).  Then I changed my thoughts slightly.

I thought – OK – this is a person who does with they love.  We spend so much time at work.  When you start to figure it out, it can be depressing or it can be invigorating depending on what you do and if you love it.`  I live in the US and without holidays or vacation, I would work approximately 2080 hours a year!  That is of course high.  I do have vacations and holidays.  But take it down to the day level, I work on average 9 – 10 hours a day.  That does include lunch as I usually work through it.  It does include some SCN time.  It does not account for the higher amount of time I spend during the end of project, crazy rush to get things done.  So let’s say 9 hours.   I’m awake for 15 hours.  That is 60% of my day!  Amazing.  I just think if I hated my job it would be awful.   The good news is that I have weekends to recharge.

So I’m starting backwards and thinking about the second part first.  The part that says “Stay Foolish”.  So at the beginning of my work history, I had the luxury of deciding on a career path.  I didn’t really think about that at the time.   Now I am.

Stay Foolish – My Journey

What did I want to be when I grew up?   It was something with animals.  I didn’t know what I just knew that would be the perfect job.  So that was Stay Foolish?  If I followed that path I’d would have been hungry that is for sure.

So next I had the wonderful idea of being an accountant.  At the time I was taking accountant classes in college, I was working for a bank.  They were paying for the classes.  I found out I hated accounting.  Was it foolish to spend the time exploring accounting?  Maybe it did give me a headache. Another one of my ideas for when I wanted to grow up I was going to…

Let me give you a bit of a background when I was in high school, the I had taken a “Basic” programming class in High School.  (Basic is the programming language)  I had really liked it.  Then the consular said not to go into it.  So I didn’t.  Now this time I really do think I was foolish – not in the way this sentence meant.  I let someone else influence my dreams.

So four years after I graduated High School, I was lucky.  My parents were able to help me through college.  Not really “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”, but it worked for me.

Now you get to really smile.   I looked at the consulting world and thought – Wow these guys are making a lot of money.  Ah now this time I violated the rule, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”.   This was back around 1998.  Yes, I’m aging myself.  The people that could spell SAP were in demand.  I had a lot of bills that needed to be paid.  My family will always come first, even before my dreams.  And so, I joined a consulting firm.  They made a lot of promises – like I would never be far from home.    I was sent all over the country.  I was gone 4-5 days a week.  The worst thing was when we were implementing SAP for a company and we got behind.  That never happens, right?  Anyway they wanted us to work 7 days a week!  Oh no. I found out that my “old” company Perrigo had an opening for a developer.  So I was lucky, I got a second chance here. (And I respect consultants – that was a good thing that came from my 9 months of consulting.)  This one I didn’t follow that rule.  It really wasn’t a dream of mine I consulted prior to SAP and loved it, but it was local.

My journey didn’t end with development.  I wanted to move forward.  To move forward “get ahead”, the next challenge, the better salary, the….  I decided I could be a project manager.  Lucky me I got to stay with Perrigo, they had a job opening as a “Sr.” project manager.   I wanted this job for the wrong reason money.  I found I could do the job.  However, I missed developing.  I could do the job but I didn’t love it.  My reviews were adequate but not exceptional.  Why?  I just didn’t love my job.  I voliated part of the rule “Stay Hungry”.  I moved to this job for all the wrong reasons.

There came a time when development was not as fun.  Our “Business/Analyst”  (Functional group) was writing requirements that included how to develop the program.  As you can imagine, I was bored a LOT.  I love to decide how to make a program run.  So I decided to be a Business/Analyst.  First I tried production business analyst.  Again could I do it?  Sure.  Was I doing it well?  Of course, I was doing exactly middle of the road work, again.   At the time, it was my dream.  I was following “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”.  But my dreams were not what I thought it was.  It wasn’t my dream anymore.

A job came open for a Business / Analyst in our quality group.  Smaller group means easier agreement.  It sounded VERY attractive.  So, I took the leap and moved into the quality group. This time I felt that I was doing a good job.  But I had some family issues.  For the first time ever my boss came down on me hard.  My review was still good.  However I no longer liked my job.  Again, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” comes to mind.    I wanted to try something different, and I found it wasn’t what I liked.  Again, I thought I wanted this job.  So yes, I was following the saying.  I found it wasn’t so I switched jobs.

OK – you’ve read this far.  I am a developer.  I enjoy my job for the most part.  You can see different rants. 

And so, from time to time, I think wouldn’t it be great if I could…   I could move to a different career at a different company.   Now Mr. Jobs, said stay hungry.  If I dropped everything for a new career, what would happen to my family? 

Now the first part Stay Hungry? 

I have priorities and one of the top is my family.  So stay hungry.  Not my family, not if I can help it.  And so would I say doing a job I hated 8 – 10 hours a day may be something I have to do.  YES!  Yes, if you could provide for your family by doing it, and following a dream would lead to hardship.   Something may come your way where you can try a change.  It did me.  But I would never decide to try riding horses as a living anymore.  Why?  It would hurt my family.   Another why?  It is no longer my dream.

Foolish – have your dreams changed?

The only constant in this world is change.  And so “Stay hungry, Stay foolish” is like SAP it depends.  It depends on where you are at in your life.  It depends on your dreams.  How have they changed?  I bet they have.  Some people know exactly what they want.  I did not, and probably still do not.  I change.  I am on a journey called life.  It certainly is for me.  Does that mean I’m done?  I’ll always be a developer? 

So you’ve heard my thoughts.  Are they right?  I don’t believe there is a “right” answer.  So, What are you thinking?  “Stay hungry, Stay Foolish”.  By the way was it foolish to jump around with my career?  You decide.

You want to hear what Kumud has to say on the topic after all she started all this?

Say yes!

I’m going to simply quote what she wrote in the comment section: 

“Now let me tell me you the fact:
I was just walking back from office one day and I got a glimpse of the book “STAY HUNGRY STAY FOOLISH”. This topic thrilled me.
STAY HUNGRY – Quest for knowledge should be there always.
STAY FOOLISH – There can be multiple interpretations
a) Never consider that you are familiar with everything
b) Even if you know much, act or pretend you don’t know. Now this is scary.

I got the book immediately and went to my room and asked my friend what came to her mind.

You would laugh now – (she is very much fashion conscious ) – She said: If you are hungry and not eating for good figure, you are foolish.  One should have a balanced diet.  However the perspective is good.  I asked few more people and got many ideas.” 

< I by the way did laugh.  But is there really a wrong way to think about this? >

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  • Hello
    For me this sentence tells the following.
    Be open, be curious, be honest to yourself. Keep on going in your life with open eyes (go even out of your comfort) and never take yourself too serious, should you reach any high level in your carrier.
    • I love that answer!  Short and sweet.  Something I can never seem to do.

      Open, curious, honest to myself, eyes wide open…  Great response.

      Never take yourself too serious – can I add ever?  Even if you are the lowest of the low.  MMMMmmmm… I’m not sure who that is.  Everyone has a place a spot in our world.  Unique and all their own.  Ooops I Lost my train of thought again.

      I would say NEVER take yourself too seriously.  I sure don’t – take myself too seriously.

      Another wonderful interpretation of an interesting statement.

      Thank you for taking your time to comment!


  • Hello Michelle,
    How do you manage to get just the right pictures for the blogs. Cool!
    I am so happy I asked you that question and you made it so big.

    Heartiest thanks.
    You would be happy to know that I met Jim Spath, Marilynn and Jeane Carboni in Bangalore on 18th oct. Had a thrilling experience.Planning to write a blog on that later today.


    • Kumud,

      YES!  Awesome people to meet.  I love them all.

      You are welcome and right back at you – thank you for the question.  Sometimes I get caught up in “WORK”, and forget that I really do this for a reason – yes family.  But fun too.


  • Michelle,

    This quote pulled me to read your post. I am an admirer of Steve Jobs and of the speech you quoted. This one line can definitely change someone’s life.

    Your understanding of this statement is interesting and certainly correct as you rightly said it can have different meaning for different people.

    Here’s my understanding of “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

    What is the definition of hunger? Biologically, it’s is an urge or let’s say necessity to eat something so our body gets the energy it needs to stay alive. In the context of this statement, it’s an urge to do something and do it not once but always so we stay alive. Remaining alive here has a broader context. It means to actually do what you were born to do and not just take life as it comes to you. Figure out what we were born to do and accomplish our part of the play. So just like I won’t survive for long without eating, in this case I am like dead if I don’t do what I really want to do and as you said ‘Like doing’. So basically, one has to first find what he/she like doing (Which is a hard thing to do. I don’t know what I really like doing. I love my job BTW, just like youJ) and it has to be something which becomes your life (like eating for staying alive) and no matter what happens in one’s life, he/she will still do it (you will eat no matter what happens in your life. At least until you are really aliveJ). So in summary, if someone has found their greatest passion in this world, they should follow their heart, no matter what comes. Make it a never-ending hunger. Stay hungry!

    Now ‘Stay foolish’. I have 2 interpretations (First one you mentioned briefly towards the end of your post):

    1.     This one has no connection with Staying Hungry. Sometimes our ego makes us say/do things we have no clue about. We act as we know everything. A variation can be that if I see myself as a fool, I would want to know things or know more or know better. And knowing is power. And the desire of knowing is even greater power. So, staying foolish to me means not accepting or believing that I know all. Even if I know something, I can still know more and do a certain thing in a better way.

    2.     This one has a connection to staying hungry. And this one is similar to what you felt sometimes. Let’s take example of Mr. Gandhi. He was an established lawyer in South Africa but he felt strongly for the Indian and African population’s sufferings and fought for their rights. His family and friends called him a fool to be messing up with the colonizers and ruining his law practice. He even spent out of his pocket to run that campaign. He then abandoned his career to do the same for people in India. Crazy right? And then he practiced non-violence to fight the British. Crazy again! He could have been perceived as a fool and indeed a hardened one because of his hunger (To fight injustice, no matter what comes). So here his hunger made him a fool for different kind.

    Steve Jobs had a passion to build things which will change the world and things which are useful for common people and to do that best. That was his hunger. He insisted and insulted people to get thing done the right and perfect way when people thought they have already done their best job. But he bought them to a point where they thought they don’t know it and are fools and under that impression sometimes they did wonders. They created products that no one else could have created if they would have accepted and gone by the generally prevalent threshold of imagination or innovation. 

    While this quote as a philosophy of life is great, practicing it is difficult. I will talk about myself and I think one key requirement to be able to practice ‘stay hungry’ is to find out what I really love to do, what’s my calling, what is my ‘Dharma’ as the Bhagwad Geeta says (A Hindu spiritual text). But it is also the most difficult things to do (Geeta says that too). We try doing something which fascinates us and we think this is one thing I wanted to do but then it turns out that it’s not(Like you mentioned about few things you tried. I came under this illusion few times but then realized that I still need find my real calling) Few people in this world are lucky enough to know exactly who they are and why are they here. Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi were some of those lucky ones. Firstly, not everyone is interested in finding what their hunger really is and secondly when few has that urge to find out, their worldly responsibilities towards family, job and to be able to make a decent living keeps them occupied.