- 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?
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is widely respected for a number of qualities. Patiently building a company with a juggernaut of a flywheel. Turning an internal initiative into Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary that rakes in over $17.4 billion in revenue. Knowing how to hire the right people. Making smart expansion decisions.
In short, for being unusually smart.
But, as Bezos learned as a 10 year-old during a road trip with his grandparents, intelligence alone won’t make you successful -- or help you live a life you’ll look back on with few regrets.
According to Bezos, cleverness is a gift. “You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful,” Bezos said to Princeton graduates in 2010, “and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”
Research shows we more often regret things we didn’t do than the things we did, even if things we did turned out badly. Makes sense: With time and effort, you can fix almost any mistake. But you can’t go back and do the things you dreamed of doing, but didn’t.
In fact, this study takes that idea even further, probing the kinds of regrets we have about the people we don't become -- which is a natural extension of the actions we didn't take.
As Bezos said, “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.”
What choices will make the biggest impact on your life story -- and whether you look back on that story with regrets?
These are the questions Bezos says to ask yourself:
Like most great lists, it’s also a hard list. Take ignoring criticism and following your convictions. That’s far from easy. Plus, most of the time we should worry about what other people think.
But not if it stands in the way of living the lives we really want to live.
If you really want to start a business -- which you can do in just a few hours -- some people might say you’re crazy, especially now. If you really want to go back to school, some people might think you’re crazy, especially now. If you really want to open a new restaurant, some people will definitely think you're crazy.
But if you let the naysayers deter you, you’re much more likely to look back someday and wonder what might have been. Research shows you’re most likely to regret thinking you didn’t reach our full potential. You'll most regret not becoming the person you feel you could have become, if only you had tried.
Because that’s one mistake you can never go back and fix.
But if you ask yourself the Bezos questions, that might be one mistake you can stop making. Starting today.