When Jeff Bezos and his wife quit their Wall Street jobs to create a company in the garage with makeshift furniture and a loan from his parents, he embodied a spirit that is worth emulating.  Who among us doesn’t admire the person who gives it all up to chase a goal that’s bigger – and succeeds.

And now, as the president of Amazon.com, wildly successful and rich beyond his dreams, what drives Jeff Bezos?  To the 2010 graduating class of Princeton, he related the story of one summer with his grandparents.  He was using his adolescent mind to do fancy math calculations, and ended up inadvertently insulting his grandmother.

In response, his grandfather told him, “It’s harder to be kind than clever. ”

And so his speech to Princeton was about gifts and choices.  He called cleverness a gift, something given to you.  But choices are actions taken by you, often in how the gifts are used.

“You can seduce yourself with your gifts if youre not careful, and if you do, it will probably be to the detriment of your choices.”

And then he asked a series of troubling questions

1.  How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

2. Will inertia be your guide or will you follow your passions?

3. Will you follow dogma or will you be original?

4. Will you choose a life of ease or a life of service and adventure?

5. Will you wilt under criticism or will you follow your convictions?

6. Will you bluff it out when you are wrong or will you apologize?

7. Will you guard your heart against rejection or will you act when you fall in love?

8. Will you play it safe or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

9. When it’s tough, will you give up or will you be relentless?

10. Will you be a cynic or will you be a builder?

11. Will you be clever at the expense of others or will you be kind?

In conclusion, he reminded all of us who listen with ears to hear, that one day – God willing – we will sit and reflect on what we have done with our lives.  Will we be satisfied with the results?

“In the end, we are our choices.”

Hear it yourself, if you dare.

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