Career changes can be difficult, even for Bill Gates — who attributes his move from a narrow, decades-long focus on computers and software to international philanthropy to a simple, lifelong habit.

“I had a long period from about 18 to 40 where I was very monomaniacal… Microsoft was everything,” Gates, 68, recently told comedian Trevor Noah on the What Now? With Trevor Noah”. “I was fortunate that when other people took over Microsoft, I was able to go and read and learn about all the health challenges and the reasons why children die.”

The billionaire Microsoft co-founder has long been known as a voracious reader. This habit laid the foundation for his career change three years before it actually happened: In 1997, Gates and his then-wife Melinda French Gates read an article about children around the world dying from diseases that were easily curable in the United States.

The story stayed with him when he stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000. With more time to read, he researched the current global health crises and decided to make the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation his main focus, he said.

His ability to research thoroughly and synthesize information effectively – honed through a lifetime of reading – has helped him stay informed about health disparities, identify areas where his money could help and point to possible solutions, he said.

“Reading inspires a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think has helped propel me forward in my career and in the work I do now with my foundation,” Gates told Time in 2017.

According to its website, the foundation has spent $53.8 billion since 2000 to combat global health crises such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Gates believes it plays an important role in halving the number of children under five who die each year – although it has been criticized by political and development scientists for a lack of transparency and oversight and the difficulty of measuring its impact .

Gates is far from the only public figure with his nose in a book: many prominent figures in technology, politics and business describe themselves as avid readers. If you want to be successful, you have to read every day, said billionaire investor Mark Cuban on comedian Bill Maher’s “Club Random” podcast last year.

“Someone who’s 40 and older, even 30 and older, if you don’t read, you’re f—ed… because you’re not expanding your mind,” Cuban said, adding that he tells his children, “Someone, the one who does not read lives one life, the one who reads an unlimited number of lives.

According to experts, reading strengthens empathy, communication and leadership skills. As a daily habit, it can even help you live longer, according to a 2016 study.

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