Bill Gates has some advice to young people who want to have a social impact over their lives and careers: look around and observe the world around you first.
It’s not a surprising that one of the world’s biggest philanthropists and entrepreneurs would put a high value on first-hand learning and experience. But it is worth thinking about, given how many people jump into fields or ideas with preconceived notions.
Gates, in an interview, recommends traveling the world if possible, and seeing not just the great tourist sites, but also how people live. He says dig in locally, too: “Are the local schools working? Are the local social services good? Find some of the nonprofits in your community. You can actually, on a regular basis, go that charter school, and say wow, that’s what we want all our schools to be like.” If you work for a company, he says, think about if its products might be relevant (even if that’s not obvious).
Melinda Gates, who was educated at an all-girls Catholic school in Dallas whose motto was “to serve,” echoes his sentiments. In her younger years, she spent time volunteering and working at the Dallas County Courthouse, a Dallas hospital, and tutoring ESL students at a public school.
“When you start to see issues that surround you in a different way, you start to think differently about them,” she says. “Getting involved and getting your hands dirty, I think changes people’s perspective on what’s possible and what they might actually be able to do.”
In doing all of these things, it helps to have a lot of time and money (Gates even mentions it helps to have a spouse with “a little more time to dig in”)–all things that far from every millennial has. However, his main point is that starting young gives people their whole lives to learn where they can have the most value.