Power Players

Ray Dalio's advice for graduates: Realize 'you know virtually nothing' about being successful outside of school

Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates Founder, President & CIO.
Anjali Sundaram | CNBC

Young people who have just graduated from college and are heading into the professional world need to remember that they are traversing from one system to another, and they know "virtually nothing about what it's like" to be successful in the real world.

So said billionaire hedge fund financier Ray Dalio in a tweet on Monday

"You're about to enter the beginning of the second phase of your life, which is totally different than the first," Dalio said. "You need to learn what it's like and how to be great at it."


Dalio himself was a poor student in high school.

"I did terribly in high school. I hated high school. I just wouldn't study," Dalio said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement in Washington D.C. "I barely got into a college." 

But Dalio did better in college because he could pick classes that interested him. "Then it was exciting. I loved it," he told the Academy of Achievement, a non-profit organization that brings successful individuals into contact with young people. "So I did very well in college and then I went to Harvard Business School."

Dalio received a Bachelor of Arts from Long Island University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard.

Dalio went on to start the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City in 1975 and is currently worth $18 billion, according to Forbes

The transition from doing well in school to making a difference in the world outside of academics requires a shift in mindset, according to Dalio. 

"For most people, you go to school, they tell you what class to go to, what classes to take. This goes on all the way through university.  'Do this, do this, do this…' and then you go into the class and they say, 'Learn this,' and, 'This is the information,' and it's a largely memory-based and instructional-based process," Dalio told the Academy of Achievement.

But wildly successful people who "shape" the world outside of school have "a strong, strong desire to understand and make sense of reality," he said. "So they're all very independent-thinking and, and rebellious. They don't mind saying, 'Screw you. This is what makes sense and I've got to go down that path.'"

They also thrive in uncertainty.

"They're comfortable with ambiguity. They love ambiguity. Some people don't like ambiguity. Most people, they say, 'I'm nervous about ambiguity.' They love to go in the space of what's ambiguous, because that's where the discovery is."

Dalio also reminds grads that "failure is part of a learning process."

"What's the risk of failure? What, you'll be embarrassed? ... How do you distinguish failure from learning? ... If it's part of a  'You're failing and then you learn,' then that learning is part of the moving forward. So that is what the process is like. Fail, learn, move forward," Dalio told the Academy of Achievement.


While achieving extreme success in the professional world requires different skills than achieving success in a classroom, according to Dalio, that is not to say that an education is not important. 

Broadly speaking, more educational achievement is associated with making more money and lower levels of unemployment, according to federal government data. Those with a doctorate degree had an unemployment rate of 1.1% as of September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a median weekly earnings of $1,883. Those who have not graduated from high school had an unemployment rate of 5.4% as of September and a median weekly earnings of $592, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

And an April 2018 paper from the World Bank Group reviewed 1,120 estimates of the value of education in 139 countries and found "rate of return to one extra year of schooling is about 9 percent a year and very stable over decades," the paper said. 

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