4 things I learned from our 40 under 40

I recently passed my first anniversary as editor of this magazine and now feel entitled to have favorites among our annual fran­chises. Top of my list: 40 Under 40.

It’s not just the exuberance of youth that makes this group so compelling. It is the message they send about their generation and our future. They see no obstacle too big to overcome, no challenge that can’t be met. Asked to define success, Will Ackerly says, “Solving intractable problems.” Yehuda Shmidman answers, “Achieving the impossible.” They accept no limits.

Some think their boundless enthusiasm may be the by-product of a speculative bubble. But these folks aren’t buying it. “The economy is fundamentally changing as a result of massive technological shifts,” says Noah Wintroub. Markets will wax and wane, but the revolution will continue, and these extraordinary people will be leading the way.

In preparing the issue, we have gotten to know a lot about this group. They have shared with us their management challenges, their best advice, their secret pleasures. From their wisdom I have come away with the following life lessons:

Alan MurrayAlan Murray, editor of Fortune Magazine.Photograph by Wesley Mann for Fortune

Bet big. This is a group with high ambitions, and they are willing to take big risks to achieve them. “People always overweight risk,” Sam Altman tells us. “Things are not ever as risky as they seem.”

When asked to name the CEO outside their industry they most admire, one of two names most mentioned was Elon Musk—master of the big bet. James Park said he was “struck by the level of personal commitment and risk he has taken in starting Tesla and SpaceX.”

Have a purpose. In pursuit of their dreams, many of our 40 have achieved phenomenal financial success. But they say that’s a side benefit, not the main goal. “Success is helping patients,” says Michelle Dipp, who tells of a call she received from the parents of the first baby born with her breakthrough fertility treatment. Success means “being on a journey where I can positively impact the world and those around me,” agrees Vas Narasimhan.

John Zimmer, meanwhile, credits Starbucks (SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz with the best advice he ever got: “Values matter; continue putting people first.”

Failure is a good teacher. This Silicon Valley trope takes on deeper meaning in the lives of our 40. Instacart’s Apoorva Mehta tells of quitting his job at Amazon (AMZN) and moving to San Francisco to become an entrepreneur. “I started and failed at about 20 different companies over a two-year period. Each failure wore away at my confidence and my willpower to continue. Had I failed a few more times, I’m not sure I would have had the tenacity to build Instacart.” But looking back, he says, “those failures were an extremely efficient way to learn.”

Have breakfast with Dad. As the father of two daughters roughly her age, I particularly liked this offering from Taylor Swift:

“I think the best advice that I ever got as a teenager was to think about your actions. Because if you are 80 years old looking back, you know if your dad calls you at eight in the morning and wants to go to breakfast, as a teenager you are like, ‘No, I want to sleep,’ and as an 80-year-old looking back, you go to breakfast with your dad. It’s just those little decisions like that.”

To see the full list of the Fortune 40 Under 40, visit fortune.com/40-under-40.

A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.

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