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“Stay hungry, stay foolish” — Meaning, Context & Examples

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” — Meaning, Context & Examples

Most of us have heard the phrase “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” It is often incorrectly attributed to Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. 

While Jobs did use the phrase during a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, he was quoting from The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC). 

WEC was a science magazine that was published between 1968 and 1974. It enthusiastically promoted the technological revolution brought on by the introduction of the personal computer.

The phrase “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” Was printed on the back cover of the catalog’s final edition, above the picture of an open road. 

The general sentiment of the phrase, namely, to remain curious and not to be too scared of failure to try new things, is relatively easy to understand. 

However, it is worth dissecting this expression more exactly. These four words contain more than meets the eye. 

 

What is the meaning of the phrase “stay hungry, stay foolish”?

 

“Stay hungry” means stay driven and keep desiring more. Stay eager, excitable, and ambitious. “Stay foolish” means don’t be practical about your ambitions, and don’t qualify and overthink your ideas. Don’t allow learned rationality to stop you pursuing what you are “hungry” for. 

 

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” — A little more background

 

Steve Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, said of the journal that it “pushed science, intellectual endeavor, and new technology.” 

It was enthusiastically open to the wealth of possibilities presented by the personal computer, which was much resisted by the New Age and New Left movements at the time it was introduced. 

The magazine was a major inspiration to Steve Jobs. In fact, Steve Jobs later wrote to Steve Brand asking for a signed copy of the edition with the now-famous “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” back cover. 

When speaking about the phrase to The Guardian in an interview in 2013, Steve Brand said, “The image I had in my mind was of a hitchhiker at dawn on a road somewhere…the frame of mind of the young hitchhiker is one of the freest frames of mind there is. You’re always a little bit hungry and you know you are being completely foolish.” 

This makes it clear that the original meaning of the phrase was inspired by the free-spirited nature of the hippy movement. 

Essentially, the phrase is encouraging people not to err on the side of caution, but rather to sacrifice comfort for adventure and to face the world with arms wide open. 

The phrase “stay hungry, stay foolish” is interesting because it uses negative adjectives in a positive way. 

Generally speaking, we do not desire to be hungry or foolish. 

The phrase gains its rhetorical power from the fact that, despite the negative connotations of both words, they are being turned on their head and given a novel positive meaning. 

This positive meaning contrasts with their general use. The phrase turns hunger from a state of emptiness into a state of excitement about what you are going to fill that emptiness with. 

It turns foolishness from a state lacking in sense to one that is intentionally carefree and liberated from the limitations of conventional judgment. 

In this way, the expression catches readers by surprise and prompts them to think about what the meanings of these words really are. 

It causes us to consider why we usually consider hunger and foolishness to be bad things, and to think about what is good about them.

Can we see hunger not as an absence of food, but as a drive to find something that will taste exceptionally good? 

Can we see foolishness not as the absence of good judgement, but as freedom from the limitations of a boring and confining sensibility? 

The expression does two things. First, it evokes the desire, or even the need, for more.

Second, it grants a license to make errors.

This expression frees up the way to living life the fullest. It tells us that we need not fear looking stupid and making mistakes while pursuing what we really want.

The phrase is also encouraging those who hear it to keep an open mind about everything. By introducing the concepts of hunger and foolishness as positives, the speaker is asking us to question what we know.

 

7 examples of how to use “Stay hungry, stay foolish” in context

    “I know you are worried about what might happen if you move to Vancouver on your own, but you must always remember our motto, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

 

    “There is nothing to be gained from playing it safe. In order to achieve what you want, you need to keep your sense of adventure. You must ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’”

 

    “There is no question that starting your own business will come with many challenges, but if you don’t try it now, you may never get the opportunity again. Remember, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’” 

 

    “If I can offer you one piece of advice, it is ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’ You never know what tomorrow will bring, so you have to go after what you want now.”

 

    “It is true that other people might think you are crazy if you quit your corporate job and move to a cabin in Alaska, but I think it will be a great adventure for you. You know what they say, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

 

    “He may appear a little reckless to those who don’t know him, but he is actually very intentional about his decision-making. His choices are all in line with his philosophy, which is ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

 

    “Don’t be so scared! You have to ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish,’ if you want to seriously pursue a career as a dancer.”

 

7 alternative ways to say “Stay hungry, stay foolish” 

Those who prefer to live life a little recklessly frequently counsel the people around them not to waste their lives being too careful.

Here are seven other possible ways they might advise someone to “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” 

 

1. Walk on the wild side

This expression was popularized by the rock musician Lou Reed in his 1972 song of the same name. Essentially, to say “walk on the wild side” is to encourage people to throw off the mantel of popular convention and live on the “wild” side, rather than the safe side. 

“He lives his life on the wild side and doesn’t care much whether or not other people think he should settle down.”

 

2. Jump in the deep end 

The expression “jump in the deep end” derives from the idea of jumping in the deep end of a swimming pool, instead of slowly entering the shallow end via the steps. It means to throw oneself whole-heartedly into something. 

“Considering the amount that you personally invested in your new business, I can see that you are really jumping in the deep end with this project.”

 

3. Throw caution to the wind 

The wind is known for carrying things away, including hats, umbrellas, and any number of other items. 

The expression “throw caution to the wind,” means to actively let go of your cautiousness and allow it to be carried away from you. It means to intentionally rid yourselves of your inhibitions and embrace what comes your way. 

“If you know you love her, throw caution to the wind and ask her to marry you.”

 

4. Live dangerously 

The saying “live dangerously,” means to do something risky, especially on a habitual basis. It is something you might say to someone if you are trying to convince them to do something that you know is a little foolhardy, but think will be fun. 

“I know you are scared of skydiving, but come on! Let’s live dangerously!”

 

5. Live on the edge 

Like “live dangerously”, the saying “live on the edge,” means “don’t play it safe.” To “live life on the edge” means to have a lifestyle that regularly involves engaging in dangerous or risky behavior. 

“If you live on the edge, you are at greater risk of falling off, but the view is definitely worth it.” 

 

6. Go for broke 

To “go for broke” essentially means the same thing as “going all in.” It means taking the most extreme or risky course of action possible in order to achieve the greatest success. 

Instead of going slowly but surely, “going for broke” involves throwing everything you have at something. If it goes well, you will have everything you have ever wanted. If it goes badly, you will be left with nothing. 

“As a young man I had to ask myself, ‘Should I play it safe or should I go for broke?’ I chose the latter option, and that is how I built up my business empire.”

 

7. Jump with both feet first

The expression “jump with both feet first” is the antithesis of the expression “keep one foot on the ground.” 

To keep one foot on the ground means to stay level-headed and not allow yourself to fly off with your fancies. 

“Jump with both feet first” has a similar meaning to “go for broke.” Both mean holding nothing back in the pursuit of your dreams, at the risk of having nothing to ground you if things go wrong. 

“They say that when you are falling in love, you should take care to keep one foot on the ground. If you jump with both feet first, you risk getting hurt.”