Bill Gates' 11 Rules of Life

Circulating via email and social media, the text of a speech allegedly given to high school graduates by Bill Gates in which he sets out his "11 rules for life" to help them succeed in the real world.


Viral text / Forwarded email

Circulating since

February 2000


Falsely attributed to Bill Gates (details below)

Poster of Bill Gates 11 Rules Hoax

Email Text, February 8, 2000:

Bill Gates' Message on Life
For recent high school and college graduates, here is a list of 11 things they did not learn in school.
In his book, Bill Gates talks about how feel-good, politically-correct teachings created a full generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.
RULE 1 ... Life is not fair; get used to it.
RULE 2 ... The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
RULE 3 ... You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone, until you earn both.
RULE 4 ... If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.
RULE 5 ... Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
RULE 6 ... If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
RULE 7 ... Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try "delousing" the closet in your own room.
RULE 8 ... Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
RULE 9 ... Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summer off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
RULE 10 ... Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
RULE 11 ... Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.


Whether you regard the above as a much-needed dose of realism or an unnecessarily vituperative browbeating, the main thing you need to know is that former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates neither wrote these words nor delivered them in a speech to high school students, or anyone else, ever.

I repeat: Bill Gates did not write these words or deliver them in a speech. On occasions when he has spoken to graduates, his message has been altruistic and positive, and his tone inspirational, not scolding. Mr. Gates may or may not agree with all or some of these "rules of life,"—we don't know, but we do know he didn't come up with them.

As frequently happens when texts are copied and shared over time, something written by one person has come to be attributed to another—someone more famous, as is often the case. In this instance, the text is a pared-down version of an ​op-ed piece written by education reformer Charles J. Sykes, best known as the author of Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good about Themselves, but Can't Read, Write, or Add. The op-ed was originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in September 1996. It began making the email rounds under Bill Gates' name in February 2000 and has continued to do so ever since.

Sources and Further Reading

Some Rules Kids Won't Learn in School
San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 September 1996