The talk at the office of the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti was Gorbachev's first in several years in Russia.
He titled the speech with a question: "Does the individual change history or does history change the individual?"
"I would say -- my career was successful," Gorbachev said. "But I mean career in the good sense. Not in the sense of 'careerist.'"
Gorbachev, 82, the son of Ukrainian and Russian peasants, rose through the ranks of the Communist Party after graduating from Moscow State University in 1955. In 1985, he reached what was then the country's leadership post, general secretary of the Politburo.
From 1988 to 1991, Gorbachev was the Soviet Union's first and last president. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, he lost a political struggle with Boris Yeltsin.
In his speech, Gorbachev looked back to his younger days and said he had always been involved in politics.
"When I was young, it was community work with school, and through university, and from August 1955 -- it was already professional political activity" he said.
Gorbachev said one transformative moment was a visit to Czechoslovakia, where he said he realized how angry the Czechs still were over the 1968 Soviet invasion.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]