Jeff Bezos, the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Amazon.com answered this question during a speech to Princeton Grads this May.
Bezos, Time Magazines 1999 Man of the Year, has built a remarkable company. It has profoundly changed commerce in general and publishing in particular. During his talk Bezos emphasized that cleverness is a gift but that kindness was a choice. He tells the story of his grandfather’s wisdom in counseling Jeff, an obviously gifted child, that he would one day realize that it is harder to be kind than clever. Bezos used that lesson to guide his actions in life.
We are made up of the choices we make throughout our life. At the end of our journey they add up to define what we’ve become. While our gifts are important, they often come resident within us. But the choices we make, like kindness, are acts we choose.
So at work every day we make so many choices that define us as team members. How do you want to be defined? At one level it is great to be recognized by how well we apply our gifts as accountants, engineers, sales people, and so on. But the more telling story and legacy may be about how we chose to treat others. If you asked 10 people you’ve worked with, how would they describe your choices versus your gifts?
Self accountability is a choice. Being respectful is a choice. Thinking and acting abundantly is a choice. This is harder than being just clever. But the payoff is how we feel about the “story we’ve written” at 80 years of age.