A little bit swashbuckling

I found this speech made by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to the Princeton Class of 2010. It hits quite close to home.

Here’s the end of it:

(The full thing can be found at http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S27/52/51O99/index.xml?section )

I was working at a financial firm in New York City with a bunch of very smart people, and I had a brilliant boss that I much admired. I went to my boss and told him I wanted to start a company selling books on the Internet. He took me on a long walk in Central Park, listened carefully to me, and finally said, “That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.” That logic made some sense to me, and he convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision. Seen in that light, it really was a difficult choice, but ultimately, I decided I had to give it a shot. I didn’t think I’d 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.

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. Thank you and good luck!

Jeff Bezos

Now there is a bit of survivorship bias here. Those that left good paying jobs to start their own ventures and failed, instead of creating multi-billion dollar companies, are unlikely to be invited to make speeches at Princeton.  Still, I think Bezos makes a lot of good points.  Life does get more enjoyable and interesting if one doesn’t play it safe all the time, and dare to make original choices.

And I have a feeling that those who leave nice jobs to start companies and fail, manage benefit from the experience somehow like succeeding in the next try or taking the career in a new path.  I don’t think there are many regretting trying.

Translating this into my own situation, I am already determined to push the real estate venture in Africa until it either becomes much bigger than it is today or fails.  (And blog readers will see how it goes!) Even if the venture never provides as much money as my day job, at age 80 I’d rather tell the grandchildren about setting up a real estate company in West Africa than being a mid-level employee at a large corporation.


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