“While the world — and possibly your parents — may be expecting big things from you right away, I want to give you permission, for a while, to not know,” Kornbluth said. “And to try different paths. And to change your mind. Especially in this world with new industries, new disciplines, and new jobs emerging on every frontier.”
In his address, Rober offered three distinct pieces of advice for MIT’s graduates — accompanied at times by the theme music from his videos. Roper’s first item was to “embrace naive optimism” as a way of avoiding excessive doubt and discouragement.
“It’s easier to be optimistic about your future opportunities when you’re sort of naive about what lies ahead,” Rober said, using the challenge of graduating from MIT as one example. “If you truly understood what would be required, that discouragement might have prevented you from starting.” He added that such an attitude can also aid a big life decision. “When you feel like you want to know the results before you decide, but the true outcome is simply unknowable.”
Instead, Rober suggested, “Life is like trying to cross a big flowing river with lots of rocks and boulders strewn about.” We must negotiate things one rock or boulder at a time, he emphasized, remarking that “the willingness to jump from my current safe rock to the next is what I feel has led me from college to NASA to YouTube to eventually landing on this rock, of giving the commencement speech at M-I- freaking-T. There’s no way I could have predicted that path when I was exactly in your shoes 20 years ago.”
As a second nugget of advice, Rober advised graduates to “frame your failures” in order to learn from them without being too stressed by them — as one might in a casual setting like video gaming, where people are unselfconsciously motivated to improve.
“I feel like when you frame a challenge or a learning process in this way, you actually want to do it,” Rober said. “If you want to cross the river of life, you’re gonna get wet, you’re gonna have to backtrack, and that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.”
Thirdly, Rober advised the graduates, “foster your relationships. A sad truth about getting older is, life gets busier and busier and it gets harder and harder to make really close friends like you made here in school.”
We have evolved as cooperative creatures, he noted, and should “positively apply confirmation bias to [our] relationships. If you assume good intentions on the part of your friends and family, and you tell yourself you’re lucky to have them, your brain will naturally work to find evidence to support that.”
In an address laced with humor and quips, Rober turned serious while discussing his mother, who “took being a mom and instilling values in her children really seriously. As such, she’s the single biggest influence on my life by far.” Over a decade ago, Rober’s mother died from ALS. Even so, he said, “I love the idea that the ripples from her influence are being felt as strongly as they ever have, through the work that I try and do now.”