We are our choices (not our talents)

I recently spotted a link (on Reddit? Kottke? I can’t recall…) to a graduation speech given by Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com’s founder, at Princeton earlier this year. He emphasises the difference between gifts and choices, quoting his grandfather: “One day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

We’ve all got skills and talents – gifts that are given to us by an accident of birth or that we develop through careful nurture – but it’s what we choose to do with those gifts that counts. As Bezos says, “cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. […] 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.”

What I really take from this speech is that it’s not just the big choices (quitting your job to risk all on an internet start-up) that count, but also the smaller choices we get to make every day, like whether to try to impress someone with your cleverness, or reach out to them with a little kindness. Sometimes I think the bigger ones are easier.

Jeff Bezos – 2010 Baccalaureate remarks – Princeton University