Will You Be Kind, Or Will You Be Clever?
Hello old friends. It's been a while, I hope you've all been well. Apologies for my slower pace of writing, but I've got a few tricks up my sleeve that I've been hacking away at. I promise I'll share more soon, but for tonight, a slice of inspiration. My brother's college graduation is coming up this weekend, and because of it, I've thought a lot about commencement speeches. I love nothing more than a good kick in the butt from a motivational talk. Recently, I was listening to a podcast where the speaker mentioned how influenced he was by Jeff Bezos' 2010 speech at Princeton University. I gave it 20-minutes of my day, and I highly recommend you do the same.
Bezos begins by telling an anecdote about how he once tried to get his grandmother to stop smoking cigarettes. He calculated how much she smoked, and told her on a car ride that she had already given away 9 years of her life. His grandfather was silent for a while (they were in the car) and then explained that in life, while it's easy to be clever, it is often very difficult to be kind.
Bezos goes on to say that being clever is a gift, but being kind is a choice. Gifts are easy because they are given, but choices are hard. He says: "Will you take pride in your gifts, or will you take pride in your choices?" Towards the end of his speech, Bezos says that when we are 80 years old, and find ourselves in a quiet moment of reflection, we shall see that our life will be boiled down to our choices.
I felt electrified by Jeff Bezos' words. I had the chills listening to his story and it was so inspiring to hear Bezos talk about how essential failure is when it comes to invention. Did you hear that? Read it again. FAILURE is an essential part of the path to creation, to invention, to a new step on your journey.
As I sat and I mulled in his words, I realized how rarely anyone ever says this to adults. Think about it. Most children are told that they can be whatever they want to be: ballerina, astronaut, chef, you name it. Teenagers are expected to try different things and figure out who they are. College students are encouraged to take a wide range of courses, play their hand at varying internships, travel, and feel the world out. And then suddenly, you graduate, and everyone welcomes you "to the real world." You find a job, and quickly you're expected to be satisfied with that. Most people stop pushing you to innovate outside of the boundaries of your cubicle, and instead, they tell you to be grateful. Be grateful for the stability of your job, and thankful for the paycheck and the benefits and they tell you that your ideas are great but man you have a lot of them and what makes you think this one will work?
Bezos says that just before he left his high-paying job in finance, his boss took him on a walk in Central Park and told him that while his idea for Amazon was wonderful, it would be better suited for someone who didn't already have a good job. He urged him to take 48 hours to reconsider. Bezos did, but ultimately, he took the leap into the unknown. He had to. He knew that he would not regret failing, but he would definitely regret never trying. This resonated with me.
While listening to this speech, I felt like I should pinch myself and say "See?!" I tell myself everyday that it is okay to jump into the unknown even when the risk of failure is high. But heck, it's not easy and as many entrepreneurs do, I constantly second-guess myself. It is a difficult choice to push yourself to make changes, especially when you already have a great job. It's challenging to talk about an idea when when your family and your colleagues have long ago stopped telling you to get out there and figure out who you want to be in the world. It is no easy choice to move away from the comforts of being well-respected in your career and testing out the often times quiet and lonely waters of entrepreneurship. Make no mistake, it was not easy for Jeff Bezos and it won't be easy for you or I.
I can't really explain why I felt the urge to write this post but if I had to guess, I'd say I wanted to put it out there for all the people who needed to hear it. For everyone who wanted a little shove towards their own leap of faith. If you're reading this and trying to silence the little voice inside your head, stop doing that. Stop telling yourself that bills or children or obligations or reality are in your way. You are the only person in your way, and you are the only person that can ever make your way. As Bezos said best, "In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story."