5 Inspirational Life Lessons We Can Learn from Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos has been at Amazon’s helm from its days of selling books online in the 1990s to delivering your milk in an hour in 2018. He has made some mistakes along the way, of course, but those haven’t derailed Amazon’s growth. On his journey, Bezos has learned what it takes to live a fulfilling life. His inspirational advice can help you, whether you’re just starting out or running your own business.  

1. Go Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

Before Bezos founded Amazon (perhaps you can barely remember that dark time), he worked at a Wall Street hedge fund. As vice president, he paid well and tasked with performing interesting work. Objectively it was the definition of success.

He could have stayed and kept collecting those paychecks. His income probably would have been a lot more stable, his life less risky. But he didn’t stay. He left his comfort zone – the job he knew, the compensation that always arrived as scheduled – for the untested waters of the Internet. Bezos even walked away from that year’s bonus to start a business selling books online. This would be a major move even today, but in 1994 it was incredibly risky.

What helped Bezos make the decision to leave his job? It’s a simple idea that he’s used time and time again. Bezos asks himself whether his 80-year-old self would look back and regret a decision. He argues that when we look back on our life we’ll regret the things we didn’t do, not the failures.

2. Your Life Is The Sum Of Your Choices

Bezos takes responsibility for his life and so should you. Everyone has certain innate strengths and weaknesses. What you do with those gifts and challenges, Bezos emphasizes, is what shows your character.

Jeff Bezos was born in Albuquerque, NM to a teenage mother. His biological father owned a bike shop and Bezos’s parents divorced when he was young. Bezos could have allowed these challenges to define him, but he didn’t.

As a high schooler, Bezos excelled in science and graduated from Princeton. He was vice president at a Wall Street hedge fund by age 30. 

Bezos could have allowed himself to be defined by any of these identifies. Instead he’s a reminder that we can’t choose our IQ or our parents, but we can choose how we act, what we do every day and whether we adhere to our core values.

Put another way, Bezos is embracing a growth mindset. A growth mindset emphasizes effort over ability and growth over perfection. That’s exactly what Bezos learned during his career. Your abilities don’t define you, your choices do.

3. Accept Criticism

As a leader, accepting criticism is one of the hardest yet most important skills to learn. When Jeff Bezos launched Amazon in 1994, he faced the harsh reality of competition from big retailers like Barnes & Noble and a healthy dose of skepticism in the marketplace.

Critics wondered how he could compete with these established brick-and-mortar businesses and many headlines predicted Amazon’s demise. How did Bezos withstand this criticism, stay the course and help Amazon grow into the powerhouse it is today?

He learned to embrace criticism. His advice: when you’re criticized, take a look in a mirror and decide whether your critics are right. If they are, change. Don’t resist.

Criticism is critically important to your personal and business growth. As the star of your own life, you have blind spots and it takes truly invested colleagues and friends to help you see them. So when a trusted employee, valued coworker or loyal friend approaches you with a critique, take Bezos’s advice. After you’ve calmed down, look in the mirror and ask yourself whether there is some truth to the feedback.

When you’ve taken an honest look at yourself, consider the criticism for what it’s worth and take what you can from it. You will never truly grow without honest feedback. The biggest gift you can give yourself is to learn to accept and learn from criticism.


4. Act

Take a minute and think about your Amazon order history. When was the last time you ordered a real physical book on Amazon?

In the last year, I’ve ordered just three physical books on Amazon (and two of them were childrens’ books).

That’s right, in the past 12 months I’ve ordered just 3 items that might have been part of Amazon’s original business plan.

In contrast, in the last year I’ve ordered dozens of rolls of toilet paper, shoes, clothes, home decor, TV shows, movies and many, many e-books.

Think about that. When Jeff Bezos left his hedge fund job in 1994 to found an online bookseller, did he envision Amazon’s 2018 incarnation? Doubtful. Yet that didn’t stop him from starting. He did one thing and he did it well. He built on that success by expanding into other areas until, over 20 years later, Amazon controls a huge portion of the retail and online content market.

My point is this: just because you lack a grand, multi-decade vision for a venture you’re passionate about, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start. Instead, just begin. And, almost as importantly, keep going.

When Amazon had to pull 1984 from the Kindle overnight due to copyright issues, they didn’t notify anyone. There was a huge outcry. Bezos later admitted that they probably hadn’t gotten that one right.

With innovation inevitably come missteps and that’s OK. Don’t let the uncertainty keep you from taking the first step - any step. Action is better than inaction.

5. Passion is a Key Ingredient

Passion, Bezos argues, is key. Without it, you won’t have fun and you won’t put forth your best effort. When you’re passionate about your work, he says, you’ll bring energy to any room.

This is a message that you absolutely need to hear if you’d describe your job as just “OK”. Everyone can find a passion in life and make it their work. You might not have found your passion yet, but the important thing is to keep looking.

Bezos shares that he once thought his passion was Physics. About halfway through his undergraduate studies at Princeton, he realized that science wasn’t his passion after all and changed his focus to computer science.

If you’re passionate about your work, you’ll attack it with energy. You’ll bring a creative spark to every conversation. That will take your performance and leadership to the next level.

Lessons from Jeff Bezos

Bezos is an insightful CEO who has shared a lot of wisdom over the years about not only being a successful leader but leading a rewarding life. Go outside of your comfort zone. Act and don’t let fear of failure slow down. Embrace criticism. It helps you improve. Most importantly, find your passion and follow it.