Gotta love Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. His patented One Click Technology has to be one of the smartest, most influential online innovations ever. But as Bezos points out in this touching Princeton graduation address, he doesn’t attribute his success to his “cleverness”.
As Bezos argues, cleverness is a gift, but kindness is a choice – and it’s much harder to be kind than clever. Talented people can easily seduce themselves with their gifts if they’re not careful, and if they do, it will likely be to the detriment of important life choices.
When Bezos first had the idea to start Amazon, he was making great money at a financial firm in NYC. His boss at the time warned him that leaving such a good job for an entrepreneurial venture would be risky, but Bezos decided to go for it anyway because, “he wouldn’t regret trying and failing, but would always be haunted by the decision to not try at all”.
Taking the riskier path to follow his passion is now one of the life choices of which Bezos is most proud. The questions he poses to his audience of Princeton graduates are ones everyone would benefit from asking themselves:
- How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
- Will inertia be your guide? Or will you follow your passions?
- Will you follow dogma? Or will you be original?
- Will you chose a life of ease? Or a life of service and adventure?
- Will you wilt under criticism? Or will you follow your convictions?
- Will you play it safe? Or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
- When it’s tough, will you give up? Or will you be relentless?
- Will you be clever at the expense of others? Or will you be kind?
Jeff’s final bit of advice is one that would make for a wise rudder for any business and any life:
“When you are 80 years old and in a quiet moment of reflection, narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the choices you have made. In the end we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”