In Commencement Address, Bill Gates Shares The 5 Pieces Of Advice He Never Heard

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“You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack,” philanthropist Bill Gates tells the class of 2023.

Earlier today, Bill Gates gave the commencement address at Northern Arizona University (NAU) to graduates in the College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences and the College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences. The speech was livestreamed here.

These areas represent fields that are especially meaningful to Gates in his role as philanthropist and activist. Although Gates called himself “a college dropout” in the speech, he shared a wealth of wisdom gained by experience with the class of 2023.

Here are the five things, says Gates, that “I wish I was told at the graduation I never had.”

1. Your life isn’t a one-act play.

“You’re probably facing a lot of pressure right now to make the right decisions about your career. It might feel like those decisions are permanent. They’re not,” Gates said. “What you do tomorrow—or for the next ten years—does not have to be what you do forever.”

Gates shared that when he left college after three semesters, he was convinced he would work at Microsoft for the rest of his life. And while he still works on software, Gates said that philanthropy, especially in the areas of climate change and global inequalities, is his full-time calling.

“Not only is it okay to change your mind, reinvent yourself, or have a second career, it can be a good thing,” Gates said.

2. You are never too smart to be confused.

In his second point, Gates emphasized the value of lifelong learning. “I thought I knew everything when I left college,” he said. “But eventually, I realized that the first step to learning something new is leaning into what you don’t know, instead of focusing on what you do know.”

Such learning, said Gates, is best gleaned from others who are experts in their field—or perhaps just a little further along than you. “At some point in your career, you will find yourself facing a problem you cannot solve on your own. When that happens, don’t panic. Take a breath. Force yourself to think things through. And then find smart people to learn from.

“It could be a colleague with more experience. It could be one of your fellow graduates, who has a good perspective and will push you to think differently. It could even be an expert in the field who is willing to reply to your questions over DM.”

Gates said that just about everything he has accomplished happened because he sought out others who knew more than he did. “People want to help you. The key is to not be afraid to ask. You may be done with school. But the rest of your life can—and should—still be an education.”

3. Gravitate toward work that solves a problem.

Gates urged his hearers to work in practical fields that make the world a better place. “The good news is, you are graduating at a time of immense opportunity to help people,” he said. “New industries and companies are emerging every day that will allow you to make a living by making a difference. And advances in science and technology have made it easier than ever to make a big impact.”

Of course, purpose is a key motivator for Generation Z. “When you spend your days doing something that solves a big problem, it energizes you to do your best work. It forces you to be more creative, and it gives your life a stronger sense of purpose,” said Gates.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of friendship.

Friendships can have an incredible impact on your career journey, Gates said. “When I was in school, I became friends with another student who shared a lot of the same interests—like science fiction novels and computer magazines,” he said. “Little did I know how far that relationship would take me. My friend’s name was Paul Allen—and we started Microsoft together.”

Gates told the audience that their fellow graduates today are more than just classmates. “They are your network. Your future co-founders and colleagues. Your best sources of support, information, and advice. The only thing more valuable than what you walk offstage with today is who you walk onstage with.”

5. You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack.

In delivering his last piece of advice, Gates noted that it was the one he could have used the most—and that it took the longest for him to learn. It is simply this: “You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack.”

Gates shared his own journey from a workaholic mindset to a more balanced view of life and work. “When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t believe in weekends. I didn’t believe the people I worked with should either,” he admitted. “In the early days of Microsoft, my office overlooked the parking lot—and I would keep track of who was leaving early and staying late. But as I got older—and especially once I became a dad—I realized there is more to life than work.”

Gates urged his listeners not to wait as long as he did to learn this lesson.

“Take time to nurture your relationships. To celebrate your successes. And to recover from your losses. Take a break when you need to. Take it easy on the people around you when they need it, too.”

Looking to the future

“Class of 2023, the future belongs to you,” said Gates as he concluded his remarks.

“I believe you will be the ones to solve the climate crisis and reduce the gap between the rich and poor. You have already made history by attending college during some truly unprecedented times. I have no doubt that you will continue to make history throughout the rest of your lives. I cannot wait to see how you will drive progress around the world.

“Congratulations on reaching this momentous milestone.”



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