Bill Gates Wishes He Embraced These Life Lessons Sooner

Bill Gates is not a perfect man. That's something we've seen as some of the sordid details of his personal life have become public. And he's also openly shared his business failures, such as his "biggest mistake": allowing Google to develop Android.

“That is, Android is the standard phone platform—non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win,” he shared at an event in 2019. “It really is winner take all. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.”

You can learn from mistakes, however, and the billionaire founder of Microsoft has clearly grown from his. Gates shared more of what he would do differently and the lessons he's learned when he addressed the 2023 graduates of Northern Arizona University recently.

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This wasn't Gates' first commencement speech. Despite dropping out of Harvard after three semesters, he's previously given two graduation speeches—Harvard in 2007 and Stanford in 2014. His 2007 remarks poke some fun at his own past:

"For my part, I’m just happy that the Crimson has called me 'Harvard’s most successful dropout.'...But I also want to be recognized as the guy who got Steve Ballmer to drop out of business school. I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation. If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today."

After he dispensed with the humor, Gates' 2007 speech showed that even while he was still working full-time at Microsoft, he was thinking about what has now become his life's work.

"I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world—the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair," he shared. "I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences. But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries—but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity."

Grownup Bill Gates Has Gotten Chill

Gates has a reputation from the early days of Microsoft as being a tireless worker. Never considered as creative or quite as smart as his Apple counterpart, Steve Jobs, Gates was always seen as the more driven and ruthless of the two.

As he reflected on his experiences to the graduates, he seemed to take a more relaxed approach compared to the days before he'd established himself as one of the greatest minds of his generation.

The former Microsoft CEO, who now runs the charitable Gates Foundation with ex-wife, Melinda, shared five pieces of advice with the 2023 graduates. All of them seemed like hard-won lessons that young Gates may have at least partially ignored.

Editor's Note: The words below are Gates', but his text has been edited for brevity.

Bill Gates Shares His Best Life Advice

You’re not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack.

When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t believe in weekends. I pushed everyone around me to work very long hours. 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 father—I realized there is more to life than work.

Don’t wait as long as I 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.

Life isn’t a one-act play.

You probably feel 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. What you do tomorrow—or for the next 10 years—doesn't have to be what you do forever.

When I left school, I thought I would work at Microsoft for the rest of my life. Today, I still love my work on software, but philanthropy is my full-time job.

You’re never too smart to be confused.

The first step to learning something new is embracing what you don’t know, instead of focusing on what you do know.

At some point in your career, you'll find yourself facing a problem you can't 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.

Just about everything I've accomplished came because I sought out others who knew more. People want to help you. The key is to not be afraid to ask.

Gravitate toward work that solves an important problem.

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 strong sense of purpose.

Don’t underestimate the power of friendship.

Remember that people you’ve sat next to in lectures, skied Snowbowl with, and competed against on Wingo night are not just your classmates. They're your network. Your future co-founders and colleagues. A great future source of support, information, and advice.

The only thing more valuable than what you walk offstage with today is who you walk onstage with.