In 2010 baccalaureate remarks to the graduating class at Princeton University, Jeff Bezos ruminated about the difference between gifts and choices, making salient points for the graduates that also can be applied at any point in a professional career. The following are some excerpts:
“Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice,” he said. “Gifts are easy—they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.
“Your smarts will come in handy because you will travel in a land of marvels. We humans—plodding as we are—will astonish ourselves. We’ll invent ways to generate clean energy and a lot of it. Atom by atom, we’ll assemble tiny machines that will enter cell walls and make repairs…. I believe you’ll even see us understand the human brain. Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Galileo, Newton—all the curious from the ages would have wanted to be alive most of all right now. As a civilization, we will have so many gifts, just as you as individuals have so many individual gifts as you sit before me.
“How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?
“Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life—the life you author from scratch on your own—begins.
“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 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 apologize?
“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?
“I will hazard a prediction. 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 series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”