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Melinda Gates reveals the secret to finding work-life balance

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Five Minute Philosopher is a weekly series in which Stylist gets profound with people we love. What will the philanthropist and business woman Melinda Gates make of our existential questions? 

What is the meaning of life?

To love and be loved by others. 

What is the difference between right and wrong?

Are your actions making other people’s lives better or worse?

Where is your happy place?

Outdoors. Ideally on a beach with [my husband] Bill, each with our own copy of the same book.

Nature or nurture?

Both. As I’ve travelled the world with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I’ve seen again and again that while human potential is evenly distributed, the opportunity to reach that potential is not. Bill and I believe that everyone, no matter where they’re born, deserves the chance to thrive.

Is it more important to be liked or respected?

Respected. Whether someone likes you ultimately says as much about them as it does about you. Respect is more objective and harder to earn. 

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If you could be remembered for one thing what would it be?

That because I walked on this planet, life got a little bit easier for women and girls.

Who or what is your greatest love?

The man I married, the three children we had together and the work we do through our foundation.

When did you last lie?

I work very hard not to – not even white lies or little fibs or when I’m asked about someone’s new haircut.

Does the supernatural exist?

If you’re asking about ghosts, who knows? If you’re asking about God, then yes.

Are you fatalistic?

Not at all. In fact, I’m a relentless optimist. 

Melinda and her husband Bill started their foundation nearly two decades ago.

What is your greatest fear?

Getting stuck somewhere small. I’m extremely claustrophobic – which is one of the many reasons why I could never be an astronaut.

Animals or babies?

Definitely babies. My favourite were three named Jenn, Rory and Phoebe.

What talent do you yearn for?

I would love to be able to sing well. I keep practising in the car, just in case the talent ever materialises.

Do you like to be complimented?

It would be nice to hear the words: “Melinda, you sang that so beautifully.”

Do you have a high pain threshold?

As I learned during a 14-hour labour with no drugs and an upside-down baby pressed against my spine, yes – dangerously high, actually. 

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What book do you recommend most to others?

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl [the psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor’s theory on finding meaning and purpose].

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

That work can be effective without being intense. My first career was in tech, and it was a very hard-charging, sometimes aggressive environment. I tried to fit in, but I just didn’t like who I was when I did. Eventually, I learned to trust my own instincts, find my own leadership style and work my own way. And guess what, I still get plenty done.

What food sums up happiness?

Tacos. They’re delicious, and they bring back happy memories of growing up in Texas.

What have you never understood?

Physics.

Melinda's book The Moment of Lift is out now

What is the one thing you want to know before you die?

Whether there’s life on other planets. 

Are you scared of dying or what happens when you die?

No, not at all. I’d love a few more decades, though.

Quinoa or Quavers?

I love a salty crunch – the cheesier the better – and quinoa gets stuck in your teeth, so that’s easy. Does anyone actually pick quinoa?

Melinda is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; The Moment Of Lift (£16.99, Bluebird) is out now; for more on Melinda’s work visit evoke.org 

Photography: Jason Bell

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