Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson | Flickr
By ROSHAN THIRAN
In May 1996, almost 21 years ago, I graduated from the University of Bridgeport and entered employment with General Electric (GE) in their GE Capital business.
As I look back – although I believe I have had an exciting and fulfilling career thus far – I know I have made countless mistakes and messed up in many areas just like many others.
Back then, the Internet was just in its infancy and there was little advice or career coaching that happened and I wished I could have had a few giants giving me their pearls of wisdom as I began my career.
The next phase of life
Graduation is a very critical time for many of us. We transition from a student to a working professional.
Big decisions await us – do we start our own business or do we work for an organisation? What industry should we start in? What type of organisation best suits us? What jobs or roles should I apply for? What if I don’t get a good job? What is a good job? And so many other questions plague us.
This coupled with numerous other uncertainties, including the current economic conditions, can sometimes create anxiety and stress for many young university graduates.
This might interest you: How Graduates Can Get Ahead by Jack and Suzy Welch
An encounter with my first boss
I was lucky to have a had an extremely tough first boss who constantly imparted tough advice. He pushed me to take on a functional role I had no interest in.
He “forced” me to work harder than I even knew I could, making hard work seem easy and he taught me that there is no “box” or “ceiling” to anything. I will always treasure his advice and wisdom.
Opening the Gates of wisdom
One person who never graduated from university, but whose advice should be treasured is Bill Gates, the founder and former CEO of Microsoft. He dropped out of Harvard University after just two years there.
Although he is not a university graduate, he recently shared his advice to the graduating class of 2017. I have personally learnt so much from reading his articles and watching videos of him, so I know that his advice would be powerful for all those graduating this year.
“Dear Class of 2017: Congratulations!
You’ve just accomplished something I never managed to do – earn a college degree. Between your commencement speaker and every aunt and uncle at your graduation party, I am sure you are getting a lot of advice. At the risk of piling on, I thought I would share a few thoughts.
New college graduates often ask me for career advice. I was lucky to be in my early 20s when the digital revolution was just getting underway, and Paul Allen and I had the chance to help shape it. (Which explains my lack of a college degree: I left school because we were afraid the revolution would happen without us.)
If I were starting out today and looking for the same kind of opportunity to make a big impact in the world, I would consider three fields.
One is artificial intelligence. We have only begun to tap into all the ways it will make people’s lives more productive and creative.
The second is energy, because making it clean, affordable, and reliable will be essential for fighting poverty and climate change.
The third is biosciences, which are ripe with opportunities to help people live longer, healthier lives.
But some things in life are true no matter what career you choose. I wish I had understood these things better when I left school. For one thing, intelligence is not quite as important as I thought it was, and it takes many different forms.
In the early days of Microsoft, I believed that if you could write great code, you could also manage people well or run a marketing team or take on any other task.
I was wrong about that. I had to learn to recognise and appreciate people’s different talents. The sooner you can do this, if you don’t already, the richer your life will be.
Another thing I wish I had understood much earlier is what true inequity looks like. I did not see it up close until my late 30s, when Melinda and I took our first trip to Africa.
We were shocked by what we saw. When we came back, we began learning more. It blew our minds that millions of children there were dying from diseases that no one in rich countries even worried about.
We thought it was the most unjust thing in the world. We realised we couldn’t wait to get involved – we had to start giving back right away.
You know much more than I did when I was your age. Technology lets you see problems in ways my friends and I never could, and it empowers you to help in ways we never could.
You can start fighting inequity sooner, whether it is in your own community or in a country halfway around the world.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who challenge you, teach you, and push you to be your best self.
Melinda does that for me, and I am a better person for it. Like our good friend Warren Buffett, I measure my happiness by whether people close to me are happy and love me, and by the difference I make in other people’s lives.
If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be a copy of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. After several years of studying, you may not exactly be itching to read a 700-page book.
But please put this one on your reading list to get to someday. It is the most inspiring book I have ever read.
Pinker makes a persuasive argument that the world is getting better, that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history.
This can be a hard case to make, especially now. When you tell people the world is improving, they often look at you like you’re either naive or crazy.
But it’s true. And once you understand it, you start to see the world differently. If you think things are getting better, then you want to know what’s working so you can accelerate the progress and spread it to more people and places.
It doesn’t mean you ignore the serious problems we face. It just means you believe they can be solved, and you’re moved to act on that belief.
This is the core of my worldview. It sustains me in tough times and is the reason I still love my philanthropic work after more than 17 years.
I think it can do the same for you. Good luck to all of you. This is an amazing time to be alive. I hope you make the most of it.”
– Bill Gates
As I read Gates’ address, I am reminded of my personal goal as I graduated – “to make this world a better place.” Gates reminds us that our worldview is so critical to how we interact with the world.
If we truly believe that the world is getting better and our role is to “accelerate the progress and spread it to more people and places,” then we become catalyst of a positive change in this world.
My wish for each person graduating this year is that regardless of what career or role or business you opt for, strive to make this world a better place by your actions, decisions and behaviour.
I think if each graduate has that deep-seated aspiration to positively impact the world, we will continue to see a better world in the years to come. Wishing each of you a blessed career ahead! May all of your dreams be fulfilled and may you be the light that shines in the dark world, making it a better place.