Now that the long weeks of festivities are over, it's time to really sit down and plan for the year ahead. I've been thinking a lot about advice recently - mainly because there's a lot of it flying around - and how a few words said at just the right time can change someone's entire direction in life.

This might sound a little hokey but think about: haven't there been times when a few words spoken by someone really changed your outlook and actions? This happened many times to me in life; one instance in particular I think about a lot happened when I was in high school.

As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, my parents wanted me to have a "safe" career that required a license - ie a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist. "When you have a license," my father said, "it's very easy to find a job."

He had a point and it all made sense, but it just didn't feel right for me. One afternoon, as I was applying for college, I walked into my guidance counselor's office to have her proofread some of my college application essays. Mrs. Conway was a sweet, elderly woman who cared much about her students. She sat down and read my college essay, peering at the paper over her horn-rimmed glasses, her red hair tied up in a frazzled-looking bun.

After a few moments, she looked up, smiled and said: "You know Betty, you're a pretty good writer. You should try it." For some reasons, those words were just what I needed to make the decision that would change my life. I was going to be a journalist - not a doctor.

I was lucky to have had someone encourage me to do what I really wanted. I've always been curious what pieces of advice, if any, changed the path of some of the brightest minds in business. Through Radiate I have gotten the chance to ask some of them and here are some of my favorites:

"Get out of town" was the best advice Richard Socarides was told when he had finished working as a policy advisor in the Clinton White House. The now-Head of Public Affairs at GLG explains: "People come to work in Washington, and then they stay and spend the rest of their life in Washington. And, believe me, [a White House senior staffer] said, you will always be unhappy. Every time you drive by the White House, you'll think, 'oh, those were the days. You don't want to live in the past, you want to live in the future.'"

"I went to my first board meeting, I sat next to the Chairman of Coke who was on the board. I wore my best white shirt, my striped tie, my blue suit, I didn't say a damn thing," recalls legendary manager Jack Welch. At the end of the meeting, the Chairman pulled him aside and said: "Hey Jack, that wasn't you at that meeting. We hired you because you're a rebel. What the hell are you dressed up like this for, acting like this at this meeting? Be yourself!"

In the midst of pursuing a second-rate business idea, Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin asked: "Why not do the big thing?" After that mental breakthrough, Glenn and his co-founder stopped working on a so-called "lame little idea" and started a business. "When you try to do something really big, if it's audacious and exciting, so many other talented people are going to want to work with you," Glenn said. "Even if it's going to be a long, hard slog, even if you're going to have these terrible competitors, it is good to be the David against the Goliath. So I've always thought that just doing the big thing, dreaming a little bit more, has been the best advice anyone ever gave me."

Mellody Hobson heard this rhyme from her mother since she was very small. "Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." This advice has been applied to everything. "She didn't care what it was, if you didn't go at it with every bit of energy you had, from emptying the trash to cleaning the bathroom floor, to working at school, she thought, 'just why bother?'" The now President of Ariel Investments says this motto has made a real difference in her approach to life and work.

Advice From a Billionaire: Find Your Passion, Add Value, and Do it Better
Published on: Feb 1, 2018