This habit helped Bill Gates change careers after retiring from Microsoft—despite being ‘very monomaniacal’ at the time

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

“I had a long period from about age 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” podcast. “I was lucky enough that as other people took over Microsoft, I got to go and read and learn about all the health challenges, why children die.”

The billionaire Microsoft co-founder has long been known as a voracious reader. The habit planted the seeds of his career transition three years before it actually occurred: In 1997, Gates and his then-wife, Melinda French Gates, read an article about children across the globe dying of diseases that were easily cured in the United States.

The story stuck with him when he stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO in 2000. With even more time to read, he researched ongoing global health crises and decided to make the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation his primary focus, he said.

His ability to research thoroughly and synthesize information effectively — honed by a lifetime of reading — helped get him up to speed on health inequities, identify areas where his money could help and illuminate potential solutions, he’s said.

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

Since 2000, the foundation has spent $53.8 billion to fight global health crises like AIDS, malaria and tuberculous, according to its website. It’s played a significant role, by Gates’ estimation, in halving the number of children under age 5 who die each year — though it’s been criticized by political scientists and development scholars for a lack of transparency and oversight, and difficulty measuring its impact.

Gates is far from the only public figure with his nose in a book: Plenty of prominent people in tech, politics and business self-identify as avid readers. Those who want to be successful need to be reading every day, billionaire investor Mark Cuban told comedian Bill Maher’s “Club Random” podcast last year.

“Somebody 40 and over, even 30 and over, if you’re not reading, you’re f—ed … because you’re not expanding your mind,” Cuban said, adding that he tells his kids: “Somebody who doesn’t read lives one life, somebody who reads an unlimited number of lives.”

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

DON’T MISS: Want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work & life? Sign up for our new newsletter!

Get CNBC’s free Warren Buffett Guide to Investing, which distills the billionaire’s No. 1 best piece of advice for regular investors, do’s and don’ts, and three key investing principles into a clear and simple guidebook.

How I turned $175,000 into a Pilates company—and sold it for $88 million
Source: CNBC