What These 5 Billionaires Would Tell Their Younger Selves
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to know the right thing to do once we can look back. Sometimes we wish we could go back and handle issues differently, or we think we could avoid certain problems altogether if only we had known what to do.
Of course, none of us can go back in time, and all those setbacks and mistakes give us valuable lessons that make us who we are. Without having lived through something, mistakes and all, you wouldn’t have the experiences and perspective necessary to become who you’re meant to be. Nevertheless, who hasn’t wished they could go back and tell their younger selves something?
What advice or words of wisdom would incredibly successful people want to give to their younger selves? As it turns out, they’d have plenty to say. Here’s what five successful billionaires would go back and tell their younger selves if they could.
1. Recognize and appreciate people’s talents.
We tend to believe that if someone is traditionally intelligent (i.e., they have a high IQ) then they can do just about anything. It’s easy to fall into the trap that being “smart” will automatically equal success.
If there is one lesson billionaire Bill Gates said he wishes he could impart to his younger self, it would be to learn to recognize and appreciate people's different talents. In a series of tweets, Gates said, “Looking back on when I left college, there are some things I wish I had known. E.g., intelligence takes many different forms. It is not one dimensional. And not as important as I used to think.”
He went on to say, “I also have one big regret: When I left school, I knew little about the world’s worst inequities. Took me decades to learn.”
Gates elaborated on this theme during a question-and-answer session at Hunter College. The question, posed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, was “If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?” Gates replied that he now realizes there is no one right way to be intelligent.
"I was so naive about different skill sets. I thought if somebody had a high IQ, they could be good at everything. And the idea that you needed to blend these different types of skills together, that always continued to surprise me," said the Microsoft co-founder during the event.
"There was this simple idea of smartness and it could go and solve everything -- I wish I had known better than to think that."
2. Relax, it’s going to be okay.
In an interview with British Vogue’s editor in chief, Edward Enninful, Oprah pondered what advice she would give her younger self. “Oh baby girl, what the world has in store for you!” Oprah said, with a smile and a hand on her heart. “First of all, it would be relax. It would be stop being afraid. Everything is going to be all right. No matter what, you’re going to be okay.”
Besides wanting to reassure her younger self, the media mogul and self-made billionaire also has a few words of advice for young people today, especially those who think that success should come automatically. According to Oprah, young people need to understand that success is a process, and there’s a whole lot of hard work that goes into building your career.
“They think they’re supposed to come out of college and have their brand,” Oprah said. “How I got to be a brand was not trying to be a brand. How I got to be a brand was every day making choices that felt like this was the right move. Now that’s the right move. And now that’s the next right move.”
Looking back on the path she followed to achieve success, Oprah once wrote a letter to her 20-year-old self, remembering the moment when she got her first job at a television station. At the time, she was worried about juggling her college courses and full-time work, along with her boyfriend at the time.
She remembered how her younger self hoped her beau would be proud of her. This touches on a difficult life lesson she had to learn: to be able to see herself with her own eyes, and not someone else’s. But in the end, it was all part of the journey she was on.
“That will be your single greatest gift: knowing there is a power greater than yourself and trusting that Force to guide you,” Oprah wrote.
3. Find a healthy work–life balance.
If Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey could tell his younger self one thing, it would be to find balance in life. “When I was young, I didn't understand the value of exercise or health and how that affected my intellect," he told Y Combinator. "I think it was useful for me to go to all the extremes to find the balance I have now, but I wish I focused more on being healthier in the past."
During a live Product Hunt Q&A, the self-made billionaire said he now strives to maintain balance in his life by sticking to a structured schedule and a consistent routine.
In response to a question, he wrote that he does the same thing every day. Doing this “allows a steady state that enables me to be more effective when I do have to react to something out of hand," he said.
Dorsey's routine involves waking up at 5 a.m., meditating for half an hour and doing a seven-minute workout three times -- all before starting his workday. "A healthier lifestyle ultimately makes me more creative and allows me to think more cohesively," he told Y Combinator.
4. You don’t have to pick the perfect job.
Mark Cuban, the self-made billionaire and outspoken judge on Shark Tank, was once asked what advice he would give to his 20-year-old self. He has a few things he wishes he could go back and say. “Don’t stress. Don’t change anything, have fun, don’t stress,” Cuban said in a Business Insider interview. “You don’t have to know what you are going to be when you grow up, you don’t have to have answers, you don’t have to have the perfect major, you don’t have to pick the perfect job.”
However, there is one thing Cuban doesn’t recommend to 20-something-year-olds: Don’t follow your passion. Here’s his thinking, which he wrote about in his blog:
“‘Follow Your Passion’ is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get. Why? Because everyone is passionate about something. Usually more than one thing. We are born with it. There are always going to be things we love to do. That we dream about doing. That we really want to do with our lives. Those passions aren’t worth a nickel,” Cuban wrote.
According to him, It’s bad advice because you may not excel at what you are passionate about. “If you really want to know where your destiny lies, look at where you apply your time,” Cuban wrote. “Time is the most valuable asset you don’t own. You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you.”
5. There is no straight path to where you are going.
If Sheryl Sandberg could go back, what words of wisdom would she impart to her younger self when she was just starting out? The COO at Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org answered this question on Quora, and offered compelling life advice for anyone beginning his or her career. “Find work you love. When you believe in what you are doing, you can combine passion with contribution -- and that is a true gift. Keep trying and you will find what you love to do… and once you do, you will crush it,” she wrote.
Sandberg went on to say: “Believe you can do anything. This is important for everyone and especially for women. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t have both a meaningful professional career and a fulfilling personal life. When you hear someone say you can't do something, know that you can and start figuring out how. Ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I weren’t afraid?’”
“There is no straight path to where you are going. If you try to draw that line you will not just get it wrong, but you will miss big opportunities,” Sandberg said in her entry. Sandberg recommends adopting two concurrent goals. Have a long-term goal, which is your dream. It doesn’t have to be realistic or even specific. Even a vague goal like “travel the world” can provide direction.
And have an 18-month plan. These are concrete personal goals you want to achieve. Ask yourself how you can improve and what you're afraid to do -- that's usually the thing you should try, according to Sandberg.