Self-made billionaire Jack Ma: How to be successful in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group in Shanghai China on Dec. 5th, 2017.
Justin Solomon | CNBC

When Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma was a young adult, he applied to over 30 jobs and got rejected by all of them. Today, the 53-year-old's e-commerce company is valued at $519 billion, although Ma didn't start achieving career success until his 30s.

"In life, it's not how much we achieved, it's how much we've gone through the tough days and mistakes," Ma recently said to a group of young leaders invited to the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. "If you want to be successful, learn from the other people's mistakes, don't learn from the successful stories."

As an alum of the Young Global Leaders network, Ma shed light on what the room of young adults should focus on within the next 30 years.

"When you are 20 to 30 years old, you should follow a good boss [and] join a good company to learn how to do things properly," Ma said.

"When you are 30 to 40 years old, if you want to do something yourself, just do it. You still can afford to lose, to fail," he added.

Soon thereafter, though, Ma recommended that people start prioritizing stability, family and the future generations.

Instead of diving into a new field or subject toward the later years in your career, he said, "when you're 40 to 50 years old, my suggestion is you should do things you are good at."

"When you are 50 to 60 years old, spend time training and developing young people, the next generation," Ma added. "When you are over 60 years old, you better stay with your grandchildren."

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Ma said people in their 20s and 30s are "the luckiest" because they still have so much to learn.

Instead of setting your goals and aspirations based on others' success stories, Ma recommended making yourself your own competition. You can do this by imagining what you hope to succeed in 10 years, a method that worked for him.

"As a young boy — even today — I never thought I would be here," he said. "When I look back, every problem I met when I was a kid benefited me," Ma said.

"I failed so many times, people probably know that I applied for so many jobs, over 30 jobs, all rejected, not even got a chance: 24 of us interviewed for a KFC job, 23 got accepted, I was the only guy rejected," he explained.

Ma also discussed the time he applied for a "police job" with five other people. He was the only person from the group to be rejected. Another time, he and his cousin applied for jobs as servers at a four-star hotel. "We waited [in a] long queue for two hours," Ma said. Although his cousin got the job, he received a rejection yet again.

While he said his mother shook her head at him, he refused to feel discouraged, thinking, "I know this is a training course for me."

Though he says he felt like a failure before reaching his 30s, Ma never gave up. He made himself his own competition, pictured what he hoped to accomplish in 10 years and did everything he could to accomplish that goal.

"No matter how smart you are, you will encounter mistakes," Ma said. "You learn from mistakes not because you will be able to avoid mistakes when these mistakes come, [when] these suffers come, you learn how to deal with it, how to face it."

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