So I’ve grown tired of the endlessly circulating "Bill Gates' Rules for Life" graduation speech that never actually happened. Had any of the last generation of business, technology, or intellectual leaders followed them we would still be using paper ledgers to build Ford Pintos. These rules are about as far from what we should be teaching students as one can get.
Let's think about what the rules would really be in today's economy.
Rule 1: Life isn’t fair. The people who want you to get used to it usually benefit from it at your expense. Don’t get used to it; do something about it.
Rule 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. But if you wait until you accomplish something to feel good about yourself, you’ll never accomplish anything.
Rule 3: Whether you make $60,000 a year right out of college has a lot more to do with your parents’ social position than anything you did in college.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until your co-workers make fun of you for not knowing the difference between till (what one does to a field) and ’til (a contraction of until). Words matter in real life; your teachers know that.
Rule 5: You will not get hired to flip burgers that once you have a college degree because employers will see you as overqualified. If you don’t have a degree, it is unlikely that there are any opportunities for promotion beyond fry cook.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault. But the fact that you run away from the inevitable ass-chewing by someone grumpy about kids these days rather than learning from your mistakes is the fault of someone at least as old as your parents.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents were ending apartheid in South Africa, banning the CFCs that were destroying the ozone layer, ending the Cold War, and convincing the world that there is, in fact, something wrong with a man groping his secretary’s ass. Please do save the rainforests.
Rule 8: Schools without winners and losers where you get as many times to get it right as you can try doesn’t bear any resemblance to real life, except for the real lives of most of the entrepreneurs who’ve remade the world in the last 30 years. Failure is only permanent if you don’t keep trying: remember that Apple once fired Steve Jobs.
Rule 9: Employers today expect you not only to put in the effort to get the needed tasks done but also to figure out what matters to you and use that to contribute to the organization. Google gives every employee 20% of their time to work on their passion. That led to Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, and the Egyptian Revolution.
Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life, people bring laptops to the coffee shop so they can get work done without driving an hour each way to work in an office for 40 hours a week that a company has to heat, light, and clean for 168 hours a week.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. But recognize when the person talking to you is a disgruntled relic of a dying economy, and tell them to fuck off.