Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, told graduating students at Vanderbilt something very wise this week.
Hoffman, who delivered the commencement address for the 2022 graduating class, said on Thursday that friendships “may be your life’s most important work.”
LinkedIn co-founder to graduates: Friendships ‘may be your life’s most important work’
Hoffman, 54, worked as COO at PayPal before going on to co-found LinkedIn in 2002 with two former colleagues. LinkedIn today has over 830 million members in more than 200 countries and territories, according to the website.
Hoffman says he wouldn’t have been able to achieve such success without his friends.
“Making and cultivating and keeping close friends may be your life’s most important work. Yes, your network is important, but more than that, friends will be absolutely central to your sense of happiness, connection and meaning.”
Four valuable lessons that Hoffman says he learned from his friends are:
Appreciating other perspectives. Hoffman says he learned that he had no understanding of women’s experiences in the world because of a college friendship with a woman of color.
“One day, after we had known each other for a while, she said one of the kindest things anyone’s ever said to me. She said, ‘Reid, you seem to have no understanding of half of humanity.’ She meant women. Because like a lot of young men, I got to college with approximately zero comprehension of women. And no one else had ever cared enough to tell me I needed help.”
Hoffman learned from her and her girlfriends about the experiences of women from different backgrounds.
“Understanding that your experience may be very different from mine is an imperfect awareness, but it’s helped me be a better friend, boss, spouse, investor, really every part of my life.”
“When there’s something important you don’t know, real friends will tell you about it.”
Realizing your purpose is another lesson. Hoffman says he was faced with the question “what do I want to do with my life?” after he finished school.
A close friend helped him find his path. “When he saw me struggling, he asked me this one question that was so simple, but it changed my life completely. He said, ‘You want to put back good values in society at a real scale. Why do you think philosophy is your only path to do that? If academia wasn’t getting me there, I should choose a different path that would. Don’t sit there feeling like you don’t know what to do. Go do something.’ I’d never stopped to think of it that way.”
Hoffman says that without friends “backing him up and egging him on,” he wouldn’t have been able to find his purpose.
“Your friends can help you see what you can’t see. They’ll help you, you’ll help them, and you’ll all do better, and go further.
The third lesson is to say “no” to yes men.
“Friends will tell you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.,” he told graduates.
“You have a team … Some of your key teammates are your friends. The ones you share your dreams and fears with are the people most able to help you get to where you should be going because again, friends will tell you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.”
And the last lesson is helping your friends helps you. According to Hoffman, “your friends help you the most by letting you help them.”
“Having friends who trusted and permitted me to help them has brought me greater joy than nearly anything else in my life.”
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