How will you use your gifts?
What choices will you make?
Will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong or will you apologise?
Will you guard your heart against rejection or will you act when you fall in love?
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 a cynic or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others or will you be kind?
Welcome to the ultimate existential question- how do I create a beautiful, fulfilling life for myself? Most of us will ask ourselves this time and time again without taking action to affect change and transform our circumstance. CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, struck gold with the advice he shared during his 2010 commencement speech at Princeton University. It’s safe to say he’s onto something.
When you are eighty years old and engaging in a quiet moment of reflection, narrating for yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most meaningful is the series of choices you have made.
The purpose of Jeff’s speech, “We are what we choose” was to emphasise the difference between innate gifts and learned behaviours or choices. As he so put it, intelligence is a gift while kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy- they’re given, after all. Choices on the other hand can be difficult- you can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful and it’ll likely be to the detriment of your choices.
Simply put, no matter how successful you become, what you’ll care about most in hindsight is the choices you made to become established, to get you to the place you currently are. In other words, your journey should be prioritised over destination. In other words, no matter how successful you become, what you’ll end up caring about the most in hindsight isn’t the number of zeroes in your bank account but the domino effect of your actions along the way. Without the benefit of hindsight however, how can we tell if we’re on a path that we’ll be proud of twenty or thirty years down the track?
Jeff’s talk revolved around the period of time in which he first came up with the idea to start online book business, Amazon. He was unsure in those initial stages and realised that moving forward to put his plan in action would be a risky move. His boss at the time, whom he very much admired, agreed that it would be a solid idea and worth pursuing had he not already been in a good job. Imagine how vastly different Jeff’s life would be if he’d wavered in his faith and lacked the conviction necessary to take such a leap.
It was a hard choice, but, ultimately, I decided I had to give it a shot. I didn’t believe I’d regret trying and failing. I did suspect however that I would always be haunted by a decision not to try at all. After much consideration, I took the less safe path to follow my passion. I’ll always be proud of that decision.
Let this be your takeaway- the perfect choice doesn’t exist. However, in many ways, we become our choices. This is where the importance of building yourself a great story lies. The truth in life is that we’ll all make choices we later come to regret. It’s commonly known as failure but I much prefer trial and error. As we grow older, our goal should be to minimise the number of major mistakes to our name. Failure will always have negative connotations. From trial and error however, you come to appreciate the process you undertake to achieve an eventual result. It is much more encouraging. Here are Jeff’s twelve key questions to inspire deeper thought- while they aren’t capable of providing a foolproof recipe for professional success and personal happiness, they can act as guidelines and assist you in making choices that will challenge and change you for the better. Here’s to transcending mediocre circumstances. Not all of us will end up reaching the same dizzying height of success that self made billionaire and richest man Jeff Bezos did. However, there’s no reason we can’t or shouldn’t defy our limiting personal expectations and create a story worth telling.