Jeff Bezos – Build Your Story

Amazon CEO and the world’s richest person Jeff Bezos shares a poignant family story about making the right choice.


I hated the smell. My grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips. At that age, I’d take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I’d been hearing an ad campaign about smoking. Basically, the ad said every puff of a cigarette takes some number of minutes off of your life. I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per day, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette, and so on. When I was satisfied that I had come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed, “At two minutes per puff, you’ve taken nine years off of your life.” I have a very vivid memory of what happened next.

I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and my arithmetic skills. Instead, my grandmother burst into tears. I sat in the back seat. I didn’t know what to do while my grandmother was crying. My grandfather, who’d been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time. After a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that’s it’s harder to be kind than clever.”

Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. 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. How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make? Will you follow dogma, or will you be original? 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 play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckly? When it’s tough, will you give up or will you be relentless? Will you be clever at the expense of others? Will you be kind? 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.

We are our choices. Build yourself a great story.