Now it’s our generation’s turn to do great things. Now I know, maybe you’re thinking: I don’t know how to build a dam, I don’t know how to get a million people involved in anything.
Well, let me tell you a secret: no one does when they begin. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.
If I had to know everything about connecting people before I got started, I never would have built Facebook. Movies and pop culture just get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate because we feel like we haven’t had ours yet. And it prevents people with seeds of good ideas from ever getting started in the first place.
Oh, you know what else movies get wrong about innovation? No one writes math formulas on glass. OK, that’s not a thing.
It’s really good to be idealistic. But be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a big vision is going to get called crazy, even if you end up right. Anyone taking on a complex problem is going to get blamed for not fully understanding it, even though it’s impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will always get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down.
In our society, we often don’t take on big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes that we ignore all the things wrong today if we do nothing. The reality is, anything we do today is going to have some issues in the future. But that can’t stop us from getting started.
So what are we waiting for? It is time for our generation-defining great works. How about stopping climate change before we destroy the planet and getting millions of people involved manufacturing and installing solar panels? How about curing all diseases and getting people involved by asking volunteers to share their health data – track their health data and share their genomes? You know, today our society spends more than 50 times as much treating people who are sick, as we invest in finding cures, so people don’t get sick in the first place. That makes no sense. We can fix this.
How about modernizing democracy so everyone can vote online, and how about personalizing education so everyone can learn? These achievements are within our reach. Let’s do them all in a way that gives everyone in our society a role. Let’s do big things, not just to create progress, but to create purpose.
So taking on big meaningful projects together is the first thing we can do to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.
The second is redefining our idea of equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue their purpose. Now many of our parents had stable jobs throughout their careers. But in our generation, we’re all a little entrepreneurial, whether we’re starting our own projects or finding our role in another one. And you know, that’s great. Because our culture of entrepreneurship is how we create so much progress.
An entrepreneurial culture thrives when it is easy to try lots of new ideas. Facebook wasn’t the first thing I built. I also built chat systems, and games, study tools and music players. And I’m not alone. JK Rowling got rejected 12 times before she finally wrote and published Harry Potter. Even Beyonce had to make hundreds of songs to get Halo. The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail.
Now today, we have a level of wealth inequality that hurts everyone. When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise, we all lose. And right now today our society is way over-indexed on rewarding people in their successful and we don’t do nearly enough to make sure that everyone can take lots of different shots.
Let’s face it. There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in 10 years while millions of students can’t even afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.
Look, I know a lot of entrepreneurs, and I don’t know a single person who gave up on starting a business because they were worried they might not make enough money. But I know too many people who haven’t had the chance to pursue their dreams because they didn’t have a cushion to fall back on if they failed.
We all know you don’t get successful just by having a good idea or working hard. You get successful by being lucky too. If I had to support my family growing up instead of having the time to learn how to code, if I didn’t know that I was going to be fine if Facebook didn’t work out, then I wouldn’t be standing up here today. And if we’re honest, we all know how much luck we’ve had to get to this point in our lives.
Every generation expands its definition of equality. Previous generations fought for the vote and civil rights. They had the New Deal and Great Society. Now it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract. We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas. We’re all going to change jobs and roles many times, so we need affordable childcare to get to work and healthcare that’s not tied to just one employer. And we’re all going to make mistakes, so we need a society that’s less focused on locking us up and stigmatizing us when we do, and as our technology keeps evolving, we need a society that is more focused on providing continuous education throughout our lives.