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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston's 2013 MIT commencement address transcript

Network World Staff | June 10, 2013
Below is the prepared text of the commencement address by Drew Houston '05, the CEO of Dropbox, for MIT's 147th commencement held June 7, 2013.

I was going to say work on what you love, but that's not really it. It's so easy to convince yourself that you love what you're doing -- who wants to admit that they don't? When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don't just love what they do, they're obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball: Their eyes go a little crazy, the leash snaps and they go bounding off, plowing through whatever gets in the way. I have some other friends who also work hard and get paid well in their jobs, but they complain as if they were shackled to a desk.

The problem is a lot of people don't find their tennis ball right away. Don't get me wrong -- I love a good standardized test as much as the next guy, but being king of SAT prep wasn't going to be mine. What scares me is that both the poker bot and Dropbox started out as distractions. That little voice in my head was telling me where to go, and the whole time I was telling it to shut up so I could get back to work. Sometimes that little voice knows best.

It took me a while to get it, but the hardest-working people don't work hard because they're disciplined. They work hard because working on an exciting problem is fun. So after today, it's not about pushing yourself; it's about finding your tennis ball, the thing that pulls you. It might take a while, but until you find it, keep listening for that little voice.

Let's go back to the summer after my graduation, the summer you're about to have. One of my fraternity brothers, Adam Smith, and his friend Matt Brezina were starting a company and we decided it would be fun for all of us to work together out of one apartment.

It was the perfect summer -- well, almost perfect. The air conditioner was broken so we were all coding in our boxers. Adam and Matt were working around the clock, but as time went on they kept getting pulled away by potential investors who would share their secrets and take them on helicopter rides. I was a little jealous -- I had been working on my company for a couple years and Adam had only been at it for a couple months. Where were my helicopter rides?

Things only got worse. August rolled around and Adam gave me the bad news: They were moving out. Not only was my supply of Hot Pockets cut off, but they were off to Silicon Valley, where the real action was happening, and I wasn't.

 

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