What matters more than your talents

Recently I watched a TED video of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, giving a Princeton University graduation address.  During his inspiring 20-minute speech Jeff powerfully makes the case that success is defined not only by the gifts we are endowed with at birth, but also by the choices we make over the course of our life.   To illustrate his point Jeff uses the example of our cleverness being a gift while our ability to act with kindness is a choice.

Telling the story of the time he made his grandmother cry by cleverly calculating and telling her that smoking had reduced her life by nine years, Jeff shares his grandfathers advice:  ‘one day you will understand that its harder to be kind than clever’.  Jeff argues that our ‘gifts are easy, they are given after all.’  On the other hand our choices can be hard.  It is our ability to make the best choices that ultimately defines the happiness and success we create in our lives and often for those around us.

At the heart of the message Jeff delivers is the need to avoid being too impressed by our own talents at the expense of the quality of choices we make.  As Jeff puts it ‘you can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful and if you do it will probably be to the detriment of your choices.’

The important choices we make in life aren’t just about integrity or kindness; Jeff also talks of courage, of conviction and about the power of choosing to pursue our dreams.  Reflecting on his own experiences, Jeff shares how his boss at the time strongly encouraged him to reconsider the wisdom of his decision to leave a ‘good job’ to start Amazon.  Challenged by the logic of his boss’s argument Jeff describes the doubt he ultimately chose to ignore as he instead decided to pursue his dream.

‘I didn’t think I would regret trying and failing and I suspected I would always be haunted by a decision to not try at all.  After much consideration I took the less safe path to follow my passion and I’m proud of that choice”.

Jeff encourages his audience to reflect on how they will choose to live their lives.  He encourages them to consider how they will use their gifts and what choices they will make.  He asks questions that all of us should ask our selves if we want to live a happy and successful life:

  • Will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?
  • Will inertia be your guide or 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 are 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?

After all is said and done, when we look back on our lives, in the end all we are, all we have created is a reflection of our choices.

Watch the TED video that inspired this blog.

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