Nvidia founder tells Stanford students their high expectations may make it hard for them to succeed: 'I wish upon you ample doses of pain and suffering'

We are often told that setting the bar high is key to success. After all, if you shoot for the moon and miss, at least you’ll land with the stars. But Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang wants privileged Gen Z grads to lower their expectations. 

“People with very high expectations have very low resilience—and unfortunately, resilience matters in success,” Huang said during a recent interview with Stanford Graduate School of Business. “One of my great advantages is that I have very low expectations.”

Indeed, as the billionaire boss pointed out, those at elite institutions like Stanford probably have higher expectations for their future than your average Joe. 

The university is one of the most selective in the United States—it ranks third best in the country, according to the QS World University Rankings, and the few students who get picked to study there are charged $62,484 in tuition fees for the premium, compared to the average $26,027 per annum cost.

But, unfortunately for those saddled with student debt, not even the best universities in the world can teach you resilience.

“I don’t know how to teach it to you except for I hope suffering happens to you,” Huang added.

Huang overcame adversity to succeed

Huang’s advice for America’s next-gen elite comes from a place of experience: His life now is a world away from his childhood, which was, by his own admission, steeped in adversity. 

The tech genius—who with a net worth of $80 billion is one of the world’s wealthiest people—was born in Taiwan in 1963 and spent the bulk of his early life in Thailand, before moving to the U.S. at 9 years old.

His serendipitous Stateside move came after his dad, who worked for an air conditioner manufacturer, did some training in the country and set his sights on the American dream. 

“I was fortunate that I grew up with my parents providing a condition for us to be successful on the one hand,” he said. “But there were plenty of opportunities for setbacks and suffering.”

One example of Huang’s hardship was his daily high school experience: The teenager had to cross a dangerous footbridge with missing planks over a river to get to his public school in Kentucky where he was then relentlessly tormented. 

“The way you described Chinese people back then was ‘Ch-nks,’ ” Huang previously told the New Yorker, adding that bullies even tried to toss him off the bridge.

In the Stanford interview, he also credited his success and work ethic with his first job at Denny’s where he was the “best dishwasher”, before getting promoted to busboy and giving that his “best” also.

“I never left the station empty-handed. I never came back empty-handed. I was very efficient,” Huang added. “Anyways, eventually I became a CEO. I’m still working on being a good CEO.”

Coincidentally, it was at Denny’s where he cooked up the idea for a company that specialized in computer chips to render graphics over a Super Bird sandwich with his two friends Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem. The trio went on to co-found Nvidia and the rest is history. 

‘I wish upon you ample doses of pain and suffering’

For those fortunate enough to never have personally experienced hardship growing up, Huang doesn’t have any advice on how to welcome more of it into your life now. But he did have some advice on embracing tough times. 

“I don’t know how to do it (but) for all of you Stanford students, I wish upon you ample doses of pain and suffering,” Huang said. “Greatness comes from character and character isn’t formed out of smart people—it’s formed out of people who suffered.” 

It’s why despite Nvidia’s success—the company has a $2 trillion market cap—Huang would still welcome hardship at his organization. 

“To this day I use the phrase pain and suffering inside our company with great glee,” he added. “I mean that in a happy way because you want to refine the character of your company.”

Essentially, if you want your workforce to always be at their a-game, don’t let them rest on their laurels.

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