One of my 13-year-old son's idols is Bill Gates. The fact that he is the richest man on Earth plays a part in that, but my son deeply respects how Gates uses his business savviness to address major world problems through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
As a father, it is my job to try and teach my own son to be the best possible person he can be. To do that, I take inspiration from the father of my son's idol, Bill Gates Sr.
6 years ago, I had an opportunity to hear Mr. Gates Sr. speak at the Rotary Club 33 in San Diego. When I listened to him, I could easily see how Bill Gates became the world-changing force that he is. At 85, Bill Sr. was articulate, energetic and genuine and it was clear how he shaped his son's outlook on life.
Now, I'm using lessons gleaned from that talk, plus some interviews Bill Sr. has done over the years, to help me teach my son. Here are some of those lessons.
1. It's good to have interests, but those interests shouldn't interfere with family obligations.
Gates' parents were thrilled their son had a passion for books, but instituted a rule that he not bring them to the dinner table.
What we can learn from this: The importance of a strong family unit can never be overstressed. Kids pull away from their family in a variety of ways, whether they mean to or not. When this goes down a negative path, it can be drugs or petty crime, but people can pull away from their families in seemingly positive ways, too, like excessive reading. Stay close with your family and be engaged with them by setting reasonable boundaries when necessary.
2. A big part of making a positive difference in your community is just showing up.
Taken from his book "Show Up for Life," Bill Sr. says if you want to make the world a better place, the first step is just showing up when people need you. Local groups trying to raise money for a good cause? Show up and help out. Your kids' school needs volunteers? Show up and get to work.
What we can learn from this: Too often, people think you need to perform world-changing feats to make a positive impact, but that's not the case. All you need to do is to be where people are needed when they're needed. Whether that's at the beach to pick up garbage or at your neighbor's home because it got flooded and they need hands to help move stuff, just showing up where you're needed is huge, even though it seems small.
3. Stay curious and learn from mistakes instead of being scared of them.
Bill's high school got a modem, which was for the teachers to use. However, while trying to use it, the teachers made some mistakes and abandoned the modem, instead turning it over to some math students to learn how to use. By 13, Bill was hooked on computers.
What we can learn from this: Mistakes -- both yours and other's -- happen and you should treat them as learning opportunities rather than being afraid of failure. Also, don't ever think that you've seen it all or learned everything you've needed to learn. Education never stops. Always be curious about how things work and you'll never stop learning.
4. Practical learning counts as much as (and possibly more) than classroom learning.
While in high school, Bill took a break from classes to perform computer programming at a power plant. Both Bill's parents and his headmaster at school believed the practical experience would be good for Bill.
What we can learn from this: As undoubtedly important as classroom learning is, never forget that it's the practical application of your skills that counts the most.
5. Don't just step out of your comfort zone, actively try things that you don't think you'll be successful at.
Even though Bill Gates wasn't particularly interested in sports, his parents prodded him in school to get involved with various athletics like swimming, football and soccer. Gates says he learned a lot about leadership and the importance of trying things you're not comfortable with and now enjoys many of these athletic activities.
What we can learn from this: Trying something that you are relatively sure you'll fail at is important. You'll either pleasantly surprise yourself and perform better than you thought you would or you will, in fact, fail. But that's okay. Failing at something, even if it's unimportant, will teach you humility and empathy. And, if you stick with it, you might even pick up a new hobby.
6. Straight from the Book of Luke: "To whom much is given, much is expected."
Bill's mom instilled this an important value for the whole family.
What we can learn from this: No matter how much you've had to scratch and claw for your success, serendipity has played a role. You might never have gotten to where you are now under other circumstances. You were given the chance to succeed and you did and now you are expected to help make this world a better place for others. It's an obligation.
We can all learn from the wisdom of Bill Gates' parents, Bill Sr. and Mary. By paying attention to what's important and giving back, we can be successful in both business and in life. Entrepreneurship starts early in life and it usually starts with great parenting. You might not be raising a billionaire, but even raising a successful entrepreneur takes dedication and a lot of sage advice.