Make It New Grads

Mark Zuckerberg's best advice to young people: ‘Finding your purpose isn't enough’

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the commencement address at Harvard's 366th commencement exercises on May 25, 2017 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Photo by Paul Marotta

In honor of graduation season, CNBC Make It is rolling out the speeches and pieces of advice that America's leaders are most excited to share with the Class of 2017. Follow along using the hashtag #MakeItNewGrads.

Finding your purpose can seem daunting, but Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says it's also not enough.

In his address to the 366th graduating class at Harvard University Thursday, Zuckerberg challenged graduates to build a world where everyone has the chance to find their purpose.

"Today I want to talk about purpose. But I'm not here to give you the standard commencement about finding your purpose. We're millennials. We'll try to do that instinctively," says Zuckerberg.

"Instead, I'm here to tell you finding your purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose," he says.

The 33-year old entrepreneur, who is worth $63 billion, has been traveling across the country to meet people in every state as part of a personal challenge for 2017. Part of what he's learned so far is, when people don't have a sense of purpose, that's when their lives seem veer off track.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg delivers Harvard graduation speech
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg delivers Harvard graduation speech

"As I've traveled around, I've sat with children in juvenile detention and opioid addicts, who told me their lives could have turned out differently if they just had something to do, an after school program or somewhere to go. I've met factory workers who know their old jobs aren't coming back and are trying to find their place," he says.

"To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge — to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose."

Zuckerberg lays out three ways that the next generation should go about building a world where everyone has the opportunity to have purpose.

I'm here to tell you finding your purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.
Mark Zuckerberg
CEO of Facebook

1. Take on "big, meaningful" projects

Previous generations rallied together to put a man on the moon, build the Hoover Dam and immunize children against polio, he says. These monumental efforts give entire communities a sense of purpose.

Tackling the largest problems in society today can be overwhelming, but he advises young people not to be intimidated if they don't know exactly what they are doing or how to fix the problem.

"I know, you're probably thinking: I don't know how to build a dam, or get a million people involved in anything. But 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," he explains.

"If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook."

According to Zuckerberg, large problems young people could tackle include fixing climate change, improving health care and modernizing the voting process.

2. Fix inequality so that everyone can chase their dreams

Zuckerberg says part of the reason he was able to build Facebook is that support from his family meant he was not scared of trying things. His father was a dentist and they were financially secure.

"The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail," and he had that, he says.

"If I had to support my family growing up instead of having time to code, if I didn't know I'd be fine if Facebook didn't work out, I wouldn't be standing here today," he explains.

To give everyone the chance he had, Zuckerberg calls for a strengthened social safety net, that he says the wealthiest in society — including himself — ought to pay for.

"We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things. We're going to change jobs many times, so we need affordable childcare to get to work and healthcare that aren't tied to one company," he says.

"We're all going to make mistakes, so we need a society that focuses less on locking us up or stigmatizing us. And as technology keeps changing, we need to focus more on continuous education throughout our lives."

We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.
Mark Zuckerberg
founder of Facebook

3. Build a global community

At a time when President Donald Trump was elected on a nationalist platform and the United Kingdom elected to remove itself from the European Union, Zuckerberg argues for building global communities.

"We have grown up connected," says Zuckerberg. "In a survey asking millennials around the world what defines our identity, the most popular answer wasn't nationality, religion or ethnicity; it was 'citizen of the world.' That's a big deal. Every generation expands the circle of people we consider 'one of us.' For us, it now encompasses the entire world."

Building communities, even global ones, though, starts on a local level, he says.

"Change starts local. Even global changes start small — with people like us. In our generation, the struggle of whether we connect more, whether we achieve our biggest opportunities, comes down to this — your ability to build communities and create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose."

Look for more exclusive pieces of advice from icons like Melinda Gates, Dave Ramsey and others over the next few weeks. Follow along using the hashtag #MakeItNewGrads.

See also:

Mark Zuckerberg: Success comes from 'the freedom to fail,' so billionaires like me should pay you to do that

What Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is more afraid of than screwing up his $438 billion company

Mark Zuckerberg joins Silicon Valley bigwigs in calling for government to give everybody free money

Here's Mark Zuckerberg's first-ever TV interview from 13 years ago today
Here's Mark Zuckerberg's first-ever TV interview from 13 years ago today