Podcast Awesome

Pressure to Empowerment: Lessons From MIT

February 27, 2024 Font Awesome Season 2 Episode 3
Podcast Awesome
Pressure to Empowerment: Lessons From MIT
Show Notes Transcript

About the Guest:

Dave Gandy is Font Awesome's Founder and an MIT alumnus who hails from Carl Junction, Missouri, and reflects on his experience transitioning from a small-town environment to the competitive halls of MIT. With a background rooted in both art and technology, Dave specialized in human-centric product design and has a strong belief in the interplay between creativity, empathy, and engineering. Detailing his educational journey, he conveys a profound understanding of personal growth through adversity, emphasizing how integral unique talents are to individual success.

Episode Summary:

In this profound discussion, Dave Gandy delves into the multifaceted experience of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), providing a unique perspective that intertwines struggle, growth, and the eventual recognition of one's strengths. The conversation unveils the cultural nuances of MIT, the infamous acronym 'IHTFP', and the myriad emotions associated with the academic pressure cooker that is this renowned institution.

Dave candidly shares his journey from a small town to the rigorous academic world of MIT, including the realities of cultural shift and academic preparedness. He discusses the intensity of the coursework, MIT's famous hacking culture, and the pivotal moments that led to self-discovery and personal growth. Filled with engaging anecdotes, Dave also illustrates the communal encounters and extracurricular exploits that colored his time at the institute.

Key Takeaways:

  • The acronym 'IHTFP' at MIT can stand for both 'I Hate This F***ing Place' and 'I Have Truly Found Paradise', reflecting the duality of the MIT experience.
  • MIT pushes students to their limits, uncovering their limitations and potential, a crucial part of personal development that Dave attests can come with "good, healthy pain."
  • Dave's unique combination of interests in art, technology, and human-centric design became his niche, setting him apart and allowing him to excel in areas beyond traditional academics.
  • Experiences such as "roof and tunnel hacking" not only serve as a rite of passage but enforce creative problem-solving and ethical boundary-pushing among students.
  • MIT's competitive atmosphere can induce significant stress and emotional upheaval, highlighting the importance of a solid personal identity and a supportive community.

Notable Quotes:

  • "Any real significant personal growth will not be had in life without a good bit of healthy kind of pain."
  • "A company is really nothing more than a lie that people believe long enough until it becomes the truth."
  • "The real challenge in life, a lot of times is, yeah, but what can I do about it? What are the solutions?"

0:02:14 | MIT experiences involve pain and questioning if it's worth it.
0:05:10 | A teacher's encouragement made Dave consider MIT.
0:08:07 | MIT experiences include dangerous and fun activities.
0:11:31 | Hacking in relation to roof and tunnel hacking
0:15:44 | The practical problem-solving skills gained from hacking
0:19:52 | Dave reflects on discovering his own strengths and finding his sweet spot
0:22:26 | Dave reflects on his experience at MIT and how it shaped him
0:23:22 | The negative outcomes of being driven by emptiness
0:26:39 | Embrace the right kind of pain for growth
0:30:01 | Don't climb someone else's ladder of success
0:32:07 | Dave reflects on their personal growth and values during their time at MIT
0:34:07 | The brutal workload at MIT.

Show Notes:
The Font Awesome theme song was composed by Ronnie Martin
Audio mastering by Chris Enns and Lemon Productions

Stay up to date on all the Font Awesomeness!


0:00:25 - (A): Awesome on autumn. Don't make something awesome. Let you.

0:01:01 - (B): So, Dave Gandy, thanks for taking time to have a conversation about your experience at MIT. And the first question I guess I would ask out of the gate is, what does the acronym IHTFP mean to you?

0:01:16 - (Dave): Yeah, that's a good one. There are several interpretations people make of that acronym. I have truly found paradise is probably one of the most comical ones for lots of reasons. The real definition of it is, I hate this fucking place. And it is a very common sentiment to feel, especially while you're there.

0:01:37 - (B): Are there any times when it feels.

0:01:39 - (Dave): Like heaven, though mostly after you're gone? It's right. Anything worth doing in life is going to have a lot of pain. Any real significant personal growth will not be had in life without a good bit of healthy kind of pain. And at MIT, there's plenty of good, healthy pain, and there's other kinds of pain generated there as well. But it's sometimes hard when you're going through it to have the most perspective when you're in the middle of that pain. Sometimes it's hard to know, is this trade off going to be worth it? I know the pain I'm going through. Yeah. But is it going to be worth it?

0:02:14 - (B): Right? Yeah. Quality of life kind of thing. So if you wind up with having to get into counseling after your experience at MIT, was it really worth it?

0:02:25 - (Dave): Truthfully, it would have been really helpful to have counseling while I was there. So my background. I come from the middle of nowhere, Carl Junction, Missouri, population 4123 at the time. And so little Podunk High school. And I was as well prepared as I could be from that school. I had taken every single opportunity provided to go and learn and got to MIT. The first intro math class at MIT, 18 one. They covered everything I knew about math in the first five minutes.

0:02:59 - (Dave): And then that pace continued.

0:03:03 - (B): Wow.

0:03:03 - (Dave): And that's what it's like being at MIT. They talk about it being like drinking.

0:03:07 - (B): From a fire hose, right?

0:03:08 - (Dave): If you comprehend everything. And every one of those lectures, man, good on you. There were people I knew who were extremely well prepared. My freshman roommate went to the Oklahoma School of Science and Math, which is a magnet school in Oklahoma, and he didn't have a class until second semester, his sophomore year at MIT that he hadn't already had in high school. And so there's a lot of people coming from a lot of different backgrounds there with a different level of preparation.

0:03:32 - (B): So growing up, did you have dreams of going to MIT? Was that your big plan? Or did you find your interest in science and math and then say to.

0:03:42 - (A): Yourself, wow, maybe I should choose. How did that come together in your head?

0:03:47 - (Dave): My interest in science and math, honestly.

0:03:49 - (A): Have always been pretty well matched by my interest in.

0:03:54 - (Dave): Yeah, I love living in that space.

0:03:55 - (A): In between art and technology.

0:03:57 - (Dave): And that's so much of what I did at MIT was product design and.

0:04:01 - (A): Where I spent my time, and that's so much. It's the intersection of beauty. It's the intersection of people.

0:04:11 - (Dave): I remember in fifth grade watching the robot design contest, so it was on PBS, and they had filmed this contest back then. It was all done with ping pong balls and sophomores. At MIT, you get a semester to make a robot, and then the robots all go head to head. And whoever does the best and comes out on the top, they're the ones who win. So there was this class in the mechanical engineering department called. It might have been called 270 back then. Now it's two seven, but this is actually the first design and manufacturing class, but it's all wrapped up together in a robot design.

0:04:45 - (Dave): And so you're given a box full of parts at the beginning of the semester, and you got to make something with us. You're given access to a full machine shop, experts there to make sure you stay safe. And then all the robots go head to head, and then somebody comes out on top. And this was so much fun to watch in fifth grade. Oh, yeah, and I remember watching in fifth grade and 6th grade, but it's one of those things coming from nowhere, coming from a very poor family.

0:05:10 - (Dave): We were well below the US poverty line on a regular basis. We didn't ever actually go hungry. But there were times that without the charity of others, we would have. And when you're from that background, you're mostly focused on basic needs, right? Being able to think well beyond that is a challenge when a lot of those things are barely met. And so in 7th grade, I had a gifted teacher who just happened to have had two kids that had gone to MIT.

0:05:35 - (Dave): And from that point, somebody being able to say, somebody there with you saying, hey, this might be possible. Because it turns out that's what audacity is. Audacity is this idea that gets stuck in your head that most people filter out, but you decide to give it a shot and say, yeah, but can I? And a lot of times, depending on your background, you need somebody to seed that for you. And so that's what happened.

0:05:58 - (B): A good teacher is such a big deal in school for me. I always think about. And I've got a teenager and a tween now, and they talk about the crummy teachers that they have, which is just inevitable. But a teacher that really shows care and sees where your strengths are and can encourage you. It goes such a long way. So much so for me, I remember certain classes, if I liked the teacher, I would do really well, and I didn't get along with the teacher often, I wouldn't do very well, and that's just me. But it just goes to show, like.

0:06:33 - (A): A teacher that's very engaged with a.

0:06:36 - (B): Kid, that can make a gigantic difference.

0:06:41 - (Dave): I was wired exactly the same way.

0:06:43 - (A): I would put out three, four, five times the amount of work for a.

0:06:46 - (Dave): Teacher that I knew cares about me first as a human being.

0:06:49 - (A): Style might be possible.

0:06:51 - (Dave): And as it turns out, that's a common story. The story of, I didn't know it was possible until somebody told me, hey, it might be.

0:07:02 - (B): There's so many different experiences people have at MIT. And there were some commonalities between different accounts. Some people have really bad experiences there, some people have the most amazing experience, and that's just the nature of people being different.

0:07:18 - (Dave): I'll say this, I had such a breadth of those experiences, the very, very worst experiences of my life, combined with some of the most fun, memorable, absurd, ridiculous stories. There was the time I almost died going off the east campus dormitory one time. It was early in the year, we had an extra couch we didn't need anymore on the hall. I lived in east campus, which is spectacular dorm. And I know a lot of culture at MIT has changed in a lot of negative ways because of the administrative staff kind of over parenting, a lot of the character out. You can read articles at Stanford about how a lot of the personality is just gone from these schools because of over involved administrative staff. So we had an extra couch and we're like, hey, we should do something fun with this. So we took it up onto the roof.

0:08:07 - (Dave): There were five stories in the building, and we took it up to the roof and we threw it off, of course. So we. He hoed it long ways. We had to clear the bushes below to get on the concrete. And it's interesting, this kind of stuff. At MIT, safety is the number one thing that people think about and care about. So we had multiple people downstairs watching the walkways, making sure that things were genuinely safe. And it's interesting how much of a concern that actually is when you're hacking at MIT.

0:08:34 - (B): Probably some kid on the corner, like, running the math on the probability of an actual injury.

0:08:41 - (Dave): It's amazing. How deep some of that can go sometimes. So we had, I think there were two people on either side of the couch who were throwing it off long ways. And I was on the end and I realized we go heave ho. And that's going. And I'm realizing this thing doesn't have enough velocity to actually clear the bushes below. So I'm pushing with all my might, pushing to try to get it just over. And at that point I'm realizing that I'm going pretty quick.

0:09:05 - (Dave): And the lip of the building on the roof is maybe 2ft, two and a half feet tall. And so basically at the point I realized I needed to just drop to my knees. Somebody grabs me from behind, back the pants grabs me. Mark Feldmeier. And he's his own series of stories. He's his own series of stories. He's the guy who went and lived under a bridge while he was interning at Apple because he didn't want to pay for rent.

0:09:29 - (Dave): Spectacularly interesting guy. Yeah. And he saved my life that day. I don't know if I was a freshman or a sophomore. I think I was a sophomore at that point. But normal everyday kind of stuff at MIT, there's just something fun about. There's something fun about. One of the first skills I learned at MIT was how to pick locks. This guide has been out for ages. It was originally made in latex. It's called the MIT Guide to lock picking.

0:09:53 - (Dave): And it teaches you everything you need to know about how the tumblers and a lock actually works and how lock picks work together. And then in Boston, where there's lots of bad weather, there's lots of street sweepers that go by and street sweepers, the bristles on the bottom of street sweepers are just tons and tons of these bristles, right?

0:10:09 - (A): But these bristles are made out of spring steel.

0:10:12 - (Dave): So spring steel is very specific formulation of steel that is super bouncy, springy.

0:10:17 - (A): And does not easily form. Just so.

0:10:20 - (Dave): Turns out that.

0:10:24 - (A): One of these bristles, when they get shaken loose by the street sweepers, make the perfect line.

0:10:32 - (Dave): So you need your torsion bar, which is just a little right angle. That was the easiest one of all. And then there was always a grinder down in the basement of the dorm where you'd go and actually make your. And shape your own lock pick, whatever shape that you needed for whichever you were doing. And for years I actually kept those set of lock picks in my wallet.

0:10:54 - (B): Do you have to snip off a piece of that from a street cleaner or how do you have to?

0:10:59 - (Dave): What happens is, okay, so here's the trick, right? They actually shake loose, but not that common. You get used to walking along the streets in Boston, and you're always looking down, because when you find one of these nice little spring steel specimens, you grab it and you keep a hold of it, right? To this day, when I'm back in Boston or somewhere else, I'll notice spring steel on the ground. And sometimes I'll grab it. Sometimes the urge is still just to.

0:11:25 - (A): Grab it and pick it up.

0:11:26 - (Dave): Because you need those at some point, right?

0:11:28 - (A): Somebody new coming along, and that's still.

0:11:31 - (Dave): The day, 20 plus years later, that's still the inclination?

0:11:35 - (B): Oh, yeah, for sure. Okay, so roof and tunnel hacking. Explain that to me. That sounds like a thing like you say, roof and tunnel hacking to somebody, MIT, and they're like they have an idea in their head.

0:11:51 - (Dave): Long enough ago, 50 years ago, used the word hacking. It meant the same thing. But now, with the rise of software and computers, the word hacking has come to mean something that it doesn't actually mean or didn't originally mean. I'll say that right. The concept of hacking is just that you've got some sort of a system that exists in a default state, and you want to see how you can push the boundaries around the edges to see if you can make something happen in the system without the way that it was designed.

0:12:17 - (Dave): That's generally what hacking is of any kind. And the reason I say roof and tunnel hacking is because that's got its own set of connotations over. If I just said hacking, people will think I meant software and computers. But there's a very specific craft to roof and tunnel hacking. There's a set of ethics behind it. The core one is that you always leave a space better than you found it. You take care of what's there. It's really interesting just how much of ethics actually enters into boots on the ground, roof and tunnel hacking. How much of ethics there actually is behind it, because there's all kinds of.

0:12:47 - (Dave): If you've got access to places that you shouldn't have, there's all kinds of ways you could use that for nefarious purposes. And if we're going to be able to keep doing this as a cool, we've got to make sure that none of the consequences that what we're doing are going to be so great that somebody finds a need to shut it down. And it's really too bad that administrations have really started to crack down on this.

0:13:07 - (A): Such a fun. So when you say, back up, like, literal. So hacking this context is that you are trying to get somewhere you're not supposed to. The system was designed in a way. You're supposed to be. I want to be in the detail.

0:13:36 - (Dave): Basement of building 18, or whatever it is. And so in that context, you're literally spending a lot of times on roofs and in tunnels because there's all kinds of crazy known. Known passageways at MIT. So the thing that there's a whole bunch of kind of funny things about being there that they say that the only two places that have more hallways than MIT are the Pentagon and the Kremlin, because every building is connected underground.

0:14:02 - (Dave): And there's all these secret passages from places to other places they just built up over the last 150 years of MIT being around. And so that's part of the fun of it, is to explore all these things that who knows when somebody was there last. So the most famous, in my mind, the most famous roof and tunnel hacker at MIT, I don't even know the name of. But what he would do is he would sign his name, right? Not his actual name, but his hacking name in the same way, whatever. On Discord, you got your fake name, and you got your real name.

0:14:32 - (Dave): And in Reddit and Discord, people only use their online names, right? So this guy's name was Sophocles. And he would. Every new interesting place he found, he would sign it. He would actually sign a number, an incrementing number. I had a friend on my floor who had a journal he kept of every number and where it was. And it was his goal to try and find every single one of those over the course of his four years. And he was out every single night, roof and tunnel hacking.

0:14:58 - (B): Oh, wow.

0:14:59 - (Dave): And to be a really good hacker, there's a certain kind of build you even have. You need to be, like, wiry, skinny, you got to be strong. There's all the kind of stuff you've got to be able to do. And he was just, like, perfect at it. And so I think over the course of his time there, I remember seeing this, him flipping through this and seeing.

0:15:16 - (A): More than half of these filters.

0:15:18 - (Dave): So there were over nine max.

0:15:20 - (A): He ever.

0:15:23 - (Dave): I don't think it ever reached four digits. And he's like.

0:15:28 - (B): So they're thinking there's got to be some sort of practical thing you gain from figuring that stuff out, like, just problem solving in general. And I don't know, how do you think it translates?

0:15:44 - (Dave): So one of the questions why combinator asks on their application is, how have you recently hacked a system in the exact same, the same idea of the way, right? A system designed to work a certain way, but you know that those normal paths aren't going to get the outcome you need. How do you change things up to get the output you actually need, while knowing that you're going to have to do things a little differently?

0:16:06 - (Dave): Really what it is. You're right. That's what it is. It's problem solving. It's not taking the default answer as the output. Right. The world is the way it is around us. I guess we can accept it and walk away and be done with it, or we can see what we can do about that. What can we do to change it? And so there's a whole mindset around when you approach a problem. How do you turn it around, inside out, backwards, to find those angles that you can come in and you can whatever in security, you call it an attack vector or whatever it is, but it's all the same kind of thinking.

0:16:35 - (Dave): The way that you hack a computer, the way you hack roofs and tunnels and the way that you hack your own life to improve things, it's all the same skill set. And so it turns out that whole way, the skill underneath the skill is almost every time you ever hear something stated, you're like, really? Is that true? There's this natural skepticism, right? There's a contrarianism. When you hear somebody say something, and there's a kind of contrarian. That's a contrarian about everything, right?

0:17:05 - (Dave): That's not actually contrarian, that's just somebody who's a jerk. But a real contrarian recognizes that most of the things that most people think most of the time are true, then the ones that are wrong. That's my leverage.

0:17:22 - (A): That's my hat on my. What's different? What do I know most other people don't know?

0:17:29 - (Dave): What are things that are broadly believed to be true, that I know are.

0:17:33 - (B): Incorrect, but where innovation happens, right?

0:17:37 - (Dave): A word I've heard coined for that particular concept is a secret. That that's what a secret really is. What are the secrets that you know? And I've heard people say that. I start interviews trying to dig in and find out what people's secrets are. What are the things that they know are different than what most people think? The answer is what most people think the way things really are are. It's such a good practice thinking about what's wrong with something. And it's easy to find problems in things. It's really easy. Problems are everywhere.

0:18:04 - (Dave): They're dripping off of every single thing on earth, right? There's a problem with it. The real challenge in life, a lot of times is, yeah, but what can I do about it? What are the solutions? And that's what the hacking approach is at its core. What can I do about it? I see this. How much of a problem is it? Is it something I want to do something about? Is it worth doing something about starting a company?

0:18:23 - (Dave): Because that's exactly what starting a company is, right? A company is really nothing more than a lie that people believe long enough until it becomes the truth. Because you see the brick wall, you keep beating your head against it, and nothing you have works. Nothing you have works, and then all of a sudden, you're an overnight success ten years later. And that's the way it always looks on the other side, right?

0:18:43 - (Dave): That's the way it looks from the outside. And so from the outside, it looks like, oh, some genius person had this great idea, and there it was, done. It turns out, no, it's much more involved.

0:18:50 - (A): It's much more hard work.

0:18:51 - (Dave): It's much more beating your head against that brick wall. Let's figure out, oh, there's. Or sometimes you actually have to beat your head through that brick wall, and that's where your edge is, that you.

0:19:01 - (A): Can do that and nobody else.

0:19:03 - (Dave): I love Mike Evans. His line that hard work is a business differentiator. That working hard at something hard and solving it is a shocking differentiator, because people don't want to do that. People don't want to take the time to put the hard work in. And so life is a combination of figuring out, is this something I need to be really creative on and turn it inside on backwards until I find that really nice, elegant way in?

0:19:25 - (Dave): Or do I need to just solve the problem the old fashioned hard way? Because that's the only way I see it getting done. And it's hard to know which it is, too. It's hard to develop that intuition over time.

0:19:33 - (A): Yeah.

0:19:40 - (B): What did you discover when you were at MIT? When you think about discovering your limitations, being pushed to a limit, finding your sweet spot, what did you discover about yourself?

0:19:52 - (Dave): I think what I discovered was if I leaned into what made me unique, if I leaned into that, I had a far better outcome. Rather than trying to climb somebody else's ladder for success, if I instead decided to identify my own and climb it instead, if I decided to climb my own ladder instead, I had a much better outcome, much greater satisfaction. Do it alongside the right people. That's where the money is. And so instead of climbing the academic ladder, I decided to find what is it that I find fascinating and interesting and a place where I can contribute uniquely well. And for me, that was human centric product design, where you need real, genuine human empathy. Right. There's a lot of people at MIT that have a great many strengths. Understanding other people is not often one of them. So I've got that on my side, right, the creative side. Right.

0:20:41 - (Dave): The left brain. Right. That was also something that people didn't have in spades. And the combination of those two things, the combination of people and technology and art all together, was my sweet spot, that intersection of all those things. And it turns out that's what a lot of human centric product design is. And so I leaned into that, and I found that when it came to academics, like I said, I was average on my very best days.

0:21:05 - (Dave): But when it came to engineering, I could run circles around most people there. Because real engineering is a combination of common sense. It's a combination of other people, it's a combination of creativity, it's a combination of an understanding the academic side of, well, what's even possible. But it's funny how much. How small of a piece the academic side actually is when it comes to doing something.

0:21:31 - (B): If there's a young person that has an opportunity to go to MIT, what kind of person, in what circumstance should go and what kind of person maybe shouldn't go? Because I think about the sort of pressure cooker it puts on you, and certain kinds of people maybe shouldn't go there because of their mindset, or they are.

0:21:54 - (Dave): It's such a good question because I have different answers now than I would have had. My answer before MIT, was, of course, you don't tend to regret the opportunities. And so my answer after school, after just going through all of that and feeling so just general, like, emotionally unhealthy. My hairline is exactly where it was after MIT. It hasn't moved since then. I lost all the hair I've lost, I lost at MIT.

0:22:26 - (Dave): And it's a painful place to be at. Right. And so immediately after, I would have been like, no, that was a bad choice for me. Who I am, how I'm wired. It was a bad place to be. That was my assessment after. And now, 20 years later, after that, I'm back to, no, that was exactly what I needed at that point in my life to grow up. And it was such a key piece of my experience, and it's not a part of my identity. MIT itself is not a part of who I am. And my identity, those identities that we ascribe to, that we take on, that we become.

0:22:55 - (Dave): MIT is a tiny part of that for me as an individual. But other people matter. And it's weird how much for other people, this is a thing. It's weird how much, when you're fundraising, if you can check that box off there, how much of a difference it makes, and so much so that in some places, it actually has the opposite effect. Where somebody finds out you went somewhere like that, now suddenly they're shutting down on the conversation and not participating the same way.

0:23:22 - (Dave): And so it's another tool. Right? People often ask me what it was like to go to MIT, and my answer is, usually, MIT is a good place to be from, not always a great place to be at. It's a tough place to be at because, like I said, that process of finding exactly where those limitations are, there are healthy ways to do that, and there are unhealthy ways. MIT is probably more full of the unhealthy ways than the healthy ones. Most people there end up being motivated out of a fear of not being good enough, not being something. And so you can really drive yourself out of that emptiness.

0:23:56 - (Dave): You see this in startups, you see this in somebody working 200 hours weeks, or is that even possible? 100 hours weeks. There's a drive that comes out of an emptiness, and then there's a drive that comes out of a fullness of the challenge, right?

0:24:10 - (B): Yeah.

0:24:11 - (Dave): And so often negative outcomes come when you're driven out of the emptiness. You get a negative outcome. If you're just driven by money and money alone. There's an emptiness to that, to that being an identity that somebody takes on for themselves and ascribes to, there's an emptiness that comes right along with that. But if you've got a different identity in something else, right? So my identity I never found in my brain, I never found in how smart I was.

0:24:36 - (Dave): And I think that was the greatest antidote to the time at MIT, because it kept me from the real despair. There's a reason why my sophomore year in my dorm room, east campus is right next to the green building. Green building, aka building 54, is the tallest building in Cambridge. My sophomore year, sitting in my room.

0:24:52 - (A): Working, and I heard glass shatter, and I heard go outside looking out my window, watching this. I watch all the medical sapphire, watch this whole thing go down. Aftermath. And it's no accident that happens. People don't have an identity based on something real solid underneath. When you are questioning that, you are.

0:25:22 - (Dave): Shaking that you are based on those limitations that you find in yourself. If you don't have a solid answer underneath it, it's one of the outs. Right? It's one of the ways of trying to cope with the challenge of where you are. And obviously, that's among the most unhealthy ways you could possibly. There's so many things about that. This just makes such a sad situation. But it's no accident that happens at MIT, and MIT hates that.

0:25:49 - (A): Right?

0:25:49 - (Dave): And no one at MIT wants that to be the case. But it's a challenge when you're somewhere that is shaking out the core of who somebody is on the inside and finding out what they're made of. That's going to happen a whole lot more often than if everything's just happy and comfortable and fluffy pillows and safe spaces and never being challenged on anything. You ever think because, oh, isn't that hurtful, is it? Right.

0:26:11 - (Dave): This is one of the core difficulties right now of the mantra that nothing I hear should ever hurt me, because there's a difference between real harm and something that just hurts. Right. You're working out and you're doing it. Right. Hurts a little bit. Right. There's harm of getting a massive injury and doing something like that. But then there's a little kind of hurt that's good. There's such a key part of growth is that hurt? And if you're not embracing it on the right amount, you're not going to be growing.

0:26:39 - (B): Yeah, for sure.

0:26:40 - (Dave): And that's the challenge there, too. What's the right way to process all that stuff going on right. While you're at MIT? All the stuff going on your head, the scripts you've been telling yourself your whole life about who you are, what you're made of, all these kinds of things. I grew up a big fish in a little pond. Coming to the biggest pond on earth and finding out I was insignificant.

0:27:00 - (B): Yeah.

0:27:01 - (Dave): And it helped that I never found my identity in my brain. It helped. It helped that I'd been enraged in a healthy way, that I looked at myself and saw what I uniquely was and valued that right here we're fostering everything that's right with people, what's unique and different about them that we can all contribute together. Because if we're alone in the universe, our weaknesses matter and they are the most important thing. But as soon as we've got somebody to stand with, shoulder to shoulder, they don't matter.

0:27:26 - (Dave): It's just our strengths. And so let's play to those and let's find other people with complementing strengths around us, and let's do this.

0:27:33 - (B): Yeah.

0:27:34 - (Dave): Whatever that is. Right. Whatever we decide is that ladder of our success that we've decided for ourselves. And the only way you find out what you can become is you've got to go through the right kind of hurt, the right kind of pain to get there. And I tell you what, there's a lot of the wrong kind of pain at MIT, but there is the right kind in space. And I definitely needed some sort of therapy or something while I was there to help process through this for me. Right. Because I'm very different from a lot of the people that were there in a lot of ways, and I didn't know how important that was. There's a whole lot of stuff I just didn't understand and didn't know how important it was because college is wasted on the young, unfortunately. Right. Like, the best things in college, we were able to go, ten years later, we'd understand so much more and we'd be able to take so much better advantage.

0:28:16 - (B): Oh, for sure.

0:28:17 - (Dave): That's how.

0:28:18 - (B): Yeah. You have to look back and filter it through an adult mind and go, oh, there was a lot to learn there. Like, you realize what you squandered or you learn a lesson later because you have the capacity to make sense of it.

0:28:31 - (Dave): It's so unhelpful in life to look back and think, would I do it all over again? Or whatever. The real question in life is so often, what did I learn, and what am I going to do now? Because that's the real driving thing. What am I doing next?

0:28:46 - (B): Yeah. Okay. Random questions here related to MIT, but I thought these were funny as I was reading up on the different experiences that people had there. And the question, it was a little article, like a little list thing that says, what does it feel like to attend MIT? And there's a few that stand out, so maybe you'll want to reflect on these. It feels like being proud of your hello world program while the freshman next to you just made $10,000 this week from his software startup.

0:29:19 - (Dave): It's highly true. I actually sat on a bus one time with a new professor at MIT, and he was like, oh, no. He was like, you guys don't understand. We're terrified. Teachers here are terrified. They're terrified because they know someone sitting in that audience is smarter than they are, right. And likely knows more about this subject than they are. And if you find your identity in your brain and the size of your brain, that's one of the greatest threats in the world, right? Is there somebody else who's actually, in fact, smarter? If I'm the smartest, how can that be? If there's somebody smarter, they're terrified of it and not the administration. The professors live in that fear.

0:29:56 - (B): Wow.

0:29:56 - (Dave): Many of them do live in that kind of a fear because they're supposed.

0:29:59 - (B): To be the smartest.

0:30:01 - (Dave): And literally many of them are. Right. You're number two in your department, but it also means you're number two in the world on this thing, and so you're just not good enough. It's amazing how people fixate on some of the silliest little things like that. Because if you're not best in the world, what's the point? And that's the kind of place that the broken view of what success is so common there, and so many people climbing somebody else's ladder, climbing somebody else's definition of success.

0:30:33 - (B): So that makes me think of you talked about how you had, you found your sweet spot. You had an interest in science and math, but you also were interested in art and design. And those two things coming together, such a great combination. Did you have a sense that was your sweet spot prior to going to MIT, or did you discover that along the.

0:30:56 - (Dave): I actually, I think I pretty much always knew that about myself. I always knew that those two things, that art and technology, both at the same time, were things that I was good at individually. But the combination of the two together was the thing that made me unique.

0:31:15 - (B): That seems like that would be a real advantage, showing up to NYT, having a self awareness that way, because it seems like a lot of kids maybe would come and they're striving to be a math genius, and they're so siloed in one space, once they come against their limitations, it would create a crisis.

0:31:38 - (Dave): Yeah. So I knew that those two things were true about me, but I didn't yet know what it meant, and I didn't know that meant that everything I'm not is okay. Right. I don't need to be those other things that I see around me, that right now is the most valued thing in my little world. I don't need to care. And the notion of not climbing somebody else's ladder of success was one of the biggest things that I learned in the middle of college.

0:32:07 - (Dave): That dramatically changed how I responded before I eventually graduated, changed all of that so much. Toward the final semester, I would go to bed at midnight every night, wake up at 08:00 a.m. Every morning, get a full 8 hours of sleep, make it to every single class and have real, genuine human relationships with everybody, with the tas, with the professors, with students, with everybody. Because that was my ladder of success.

0:32:33 - (B): Right?

0:32:33 - (Dave): That was what being present in there where I was, and valuing other people deeply while being responsible, that was the stuff that I was not equipped with in a lot of ways to do before MIT. And that combination of those things is unique when I was there. Not unique, but it's more rare. It wasn't abnormal at MIT to not go to bed until, for many people, until 08:00 a.m.. A lot of people ended up skipping classes because they were working through the previous night. And this happens as a natural result of the fact that problem sets for an individual class. Might take you 24 hours to do every single week.

0:33:05 - (Dave): You multiply that times the four classes you're taking. There's 100 hours right there at a base level just to get the work done. And not every class was that every semester, but it's that amount of work without seeing the other side, without recognizing what this is doing, the overall context of what this is doing, right? The identity of being somebody who I'm the smartest versus somebody who is. I'm going to do everything with what I've been given, that identity, that one I can live with because it allows me to be okay with whatever the outcome is.

0:33:36 - (Dave): But if I have to be the smartest in the world, the likelihood of that is functionally zero.

0:33:41 - (A): Right?

0:33:41 - (Dave): Except for one person on earth, and hooray for them. And it sounds awful for everyone who has to be around them in some ways.

0:33:47 - (A): Right?

0:33:47 - (Dave): If somebody's. Somebody's finding that as their real identity.

0:33:49 - (B): Right?

0:33:50 - (Dave): And yeah, it was a lot of adjustments I had to make along the way.

0:33:55 - (B): Another one of these quotes that comes up, what does it feel like to attend MIT? It feels like returning from campus at 04:00 a.m. After rechecking your problem sets and questioning your life choices.

0:34:07 - (Dave): 04:00 a.m. Sounds early, meaning 04:00 a.m. Sounds like you're not done with your work yet. You've probably got at least another couple.

0:34:14 - (B): Of hours to do that night. Oh, jeez, that is brutal. Yeah.