During the graduation season in the United States, various prominent figures have been invited to universities to deliver commencement speeches.
Last weekend, the former richest person in the world, Bill Gates, made an appearance at Northern Arizona University’s graduation ceremony. After receiving an honorary doctoral degree from the institution, Bill Gates shared his life experiences and offered five valuable pieces of advice to the graduating students.
Your Life is Not a Solo Act, and There’s No Lifelong Job.
Gates acknowledged the immense pressure graduates face when making career choices, stating, “You might feel like these decisions are set in stone, but they’re not.”
Reflecting on his own experiences as a student, Gates recalled battling similar pressures. When he co-founded Microsoft in 1975, he believed he would work there for a lifetime.
However, he admitted he was “glad” to be proven wrong.
While Gates did spend a substantial amount of time at Microsoft, serving as CEO until 2000 and as a board member until 2014, he highlighted the shift in his priorities.
“Today, I still do software work, but my full-time job is philanthropy,” he stated, referring to his work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he established with his former wife, Melinda.
According to the foundation’s website, it has granted $65.6 billion since 2000, focusing on global issues such as climate change, gender equality, and healthcare.
Gates encouraged graduates to reevaluate themselves and their goals, emphasizing that it is a “good thing” even if they differ from their initial expectations.
Embrace Lifelong Learning and Embrace the New
“Even as a co-founder of a company valued in the trillions, I’m learning new things every day.”
Gates admits that when he dropped out of college, he believed he knew it all. However, he soon realized that “the first step to learning something new is to learn what you don’t know, rather than focusing on what you already know.”
Gates offers this advice to students: “At some point in your career, you will find yourself facing a problem that you cannot solve on your own—when that happens, don’t panic. Take a breath. Force yourself to think things through. Then find smart people to learn from.”
He adds that these knowledgeable individuals can be found in the workplace, professional networking platforms, or within your field. Gates encourages seeking help and advises, “Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.”
First Job Should Be Problem-Solving Job, Advises Bill Gates
Bill Gates highlights the importance of landing a problem-solving job as one’s first job, stating, “When you graduate, there are many opportunities to make a difference. Every day, new industries and companies emerge that allow you to earn a living by making an impact. Advances in science and technology have made it easier than ever to have significant influence.”
The opportunities are endless, as Gates explains, “Students can work as foresters to address climate change or as programmers to help people benefit from artificial intelligence.”
“When you spend time on something that tackles big problems, it motivates you to do your best work,” he says. “It forces you to become more creative and gives your life a sense of purpose.”
Never underestimate the power of friendships
Gates has admitted that one of his biggest regrets during college was not being more social. He spent most of his time in classrooms and studying, leaving little room for building friendships.
He advises graduates to continue valuing the connections they’ve made throughout their college years.
“The people you [interact with] and sit next to in class are not just your classmates. They are your network,” he says.
“They are your future co-founders and colleagues. They are your best sources of support, information, and advice. The only thing more valuable than who you walk off the stage with today is who you walk onto the stage with.”
Some of Gates’ lifelong friends have played significant roles in his life. His high school friend, Paul Allen, became his co-founder at Microsoft. One of his few college friends, Steve Ballmer, succeeded him as CEO of Microsoft.
In March of this year, Gates even mentioned that the best advice he ever received was about friendships—from his longtime friend and billionaire Warren Buffett.
“In the end, the true perception of you by your friends and the strength of those friendships are what matter most.”
Taking a Balanced Approach: Life Matters More Than Work.
While hard work can lead to salary increases and career advancements, it should not come at the expense of one’s well-being.
“When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t believe in weekends. And I didn’t believe that the people I worked with should either,” he says. He even tracked his Microsoft employees, noting who stayed late in the office and who left early.
It wasn’t until he became a father that he realized “life matters more than work,” he points out.
“Don’t wait as long as I did to learn that lesson,” he says. “Take time to nurture your relationships. Celebrate your successes. And recover from your losses. Take breaks when needed. And relax when those around you need it too.”