Bill Gates reveals what he wishes he knew when he was younger

Female candidates at Bill Gates’ private office say they were asked personal questions about their sex lives and past drugs use (Getty Images)

Bill Gates has revealed the five things he wishes he could tell his younger self.

The Microsoft co-founder recently spoke to graduates of Northern Arizona University, where he received an honorary doctorate degree and delivered the commencement speech on Saturday 13 May.

The 67-year-old billionaire shared with students the advice he never received on his own graduation day, notably because the self-proclaimed college dropout left Harvard University after three semesters to form Microsoft.

While speaking to college graduates at NAU, the first piece of advice he gave was that “life isn’t a one-act play.”

“You probably feel a lot of pressure right now to make the right decisions about your career,” Gates said in his speech. “It might feel like those decisions are permanent. They’re not. What you do tomorrow – or for the next 10 years – does not have to be what you do forever.”

While Gates thought he’d spend his entire life working at Microsoft, he acknowledged that his “full-time job” is now philanthropy through his non-profit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – which he founded with his ex-wife, Melinda French Gates. “Not only is it okay to change your mind or have a second career, it can be a very good thing,” he said.

The second piece of advice Gates wished he heard at his graduation was that “you are never too smart to be confused”. The billionaire informed graduates that they will find themselves faced with a problem they can’t solve on their own at some point in their career. At that moment, Gates told students not to panic but to “take a breath” and “force yourself to think things through”.

Gates also suggested they find “smart people to learn from,” such as colleagues with more experience, a fellow graduate with a different perspective, or an expert in the field. “Just about everything I have accomplished came because I sought out others who knew more,” he admitted. “People want to help you. The key is to not be afraid to ask.”

Thirdly, Gates told students to “gravitate toward work that solves an important problem”.

The tech mogul pointed out that many young people are entering the workforce during a time when “there are many important problems to solve”, such as climate change or biases in artificial intelligence technology. “When you spend your days doing something that solves a big problem, it energises you to do your best work,” he said. “It forces you to be more creative, and it gives your life a strong sense of purpose.”

As for his fourth “simple” piece of advice, Gates said: “Don’t underestimate the power of friendship.” He recalled his childhood friend Paul Allen, who would eventually join Gates in starting Microsoft. Gates noted that friends can also be “a great future source of support, information, and advice”.

Finally, the last piece of advice that Gates gave NAU graduates was also one that he admitted he “could have used the most”.

“You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack,” he said, adding that it took him “a long time to learn” his final piece of advice for himself. The Microsoft co-founder explained that he didn’t realise until much later that “there is more to life than work”.

“When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations,” Gates explained. “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 realised there is more to life than work,” he continued. “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.”