If you’re looking for a role model of lifelong success, you can’t do much better than Bill Gates. Microsoft, the company he founded, created a whole industry. At a net worth of nearly $80 billion, he’s the richest man in the world. His philanthropic activities reach far and wide and have actually made the world a better place. Oh, and he also achieved his dream, which was a personal computer on every desk.
What led to Gates’s success? He certainly was in the right place at the right time with the right concept for a product. But over the years, he himself has pointed to some of the attitudes he believes lead to continued success. They’re a good guide for anyone, in any field. The personal finance site GOBankingRates has compiled some of them within a piece about how Gates thinks you should spend your money.
Here are some of the most relevant attitudes he looks for–and which anyone can develop:
Knowing how to say no.
This is advice Gates got from Warren Buffett, and it’s extremely useful for everyone, whether you’re rich and successful or not. There will always be an unending supply of opportunities, things to do, causes you care about, and on and on. In this busy world, knowing when and how to say no to projects, social invitations, and other requests for your time may be the most important skill you need. It will allow you to figure out what’s truly important, and then focus your attention there.
« Embrace bad news to learn where you need the most improvement, » Gates advises in his book Business @ the Speed of Thought. While it’s never pleasant to hear someone tell you how you’ve screwed up, without that kind of feedback, your learning process and growth will be much slower. I find listening to criticism nearly always gives me perspective that I didn’t have, and that I need.
Of course, some criticism is not useful–so you have to use your judgment to tell the difference. With that in mind, next time someone wants to chew you out, don’t walk the other way. Stop, listen, thank them–and learn.
It can be hard to be optimistic in a world where so many things seem to be going wrong. But without optimism, no one would ever start a company, invest in a new idea, or try out a new product or market.
Gates appreciates the value of optimism, and since his work addresses some of the most disheartening problems on our planet, such as sex trafficking, hunger, and extreme poverty, he needs a lot of it. « Optimism is often dismissed as false hope, » he said in a Stanford commencement speech in 2013. « But there is also false hopelessness. »
Being willing to fail.
« Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose, » he wrote in his book The Road Ahead. Today’s can’t-fail product could wind up obsolete tomorrow, he explains, which could be what’s happening to desktop personal computers and the Windows operating system that often runs them.
You may find successes more enjoyable than failures, but it’s thefailures that will teach you the most and give you the best opportunities to grow. Keep that in mind next time you fall flat on your face.
The ability to focus on a goal and keep progressing toward it.
In an annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates drew some lessons from the history of the steam engine. « You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal, » he wrote. He went on to say that finding the right goal and the right metric for tracking one’s progress is surprisingly difficult.
Then again, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you’ll never miss a post.