When Jeff Bezos got the idea to start Amazon in 1994, it seemed risky and far-fetched to leave his well-paying job in New York City to build a company that sold books online. He was okay with the possibility of failing (after all if you know it is going to work, it’s not true innovation) but thought he’d be forever haunted by the idea if he didn’t try. Ultimately Bezos decided to take the less safe path and give it a shot—and built one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Here is an excerpt of his story as told at the 2010 Princeton Commencement Address:
“I got the idea to start Amazon 16 years ago. I came across the fact that Web usage was growing at 2,300 percent per year. I’d never seen or heard of anything that grew that fast, and the idea of building an online bookstore with millions of titles—something that simply couldn’t exist in the physical world—was very exciting to me. I had just turned 30 years old, and I’d been married for a year. I told my wife MacKenzie that I wanted to quit my job and go do this crazy thing that probably wouldn’t work since most startups don’t, and I wasn’t sure what would happen after that. MacKenzie (also a Princeton grad and sitting here in the second row) told me I should go for it. As a young boy, I’d been a garage inventor. I’d invented an automatic gate closer out of cement-filled tires, a solar cooker that didn’t work very well out of an umbrella and tinfoil, baking-pan alarms to entrap my siblings. I’d always wanted to be an inventor, and she wanted me to follow my passion. 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.”
Bezos then poses a series of questions for all of us to consider, including:
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?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Finally he reminds us that we are the sum of our choices. Following our Professional Destiny requires us to be both a dreamer and a doer. It requires us to risk failure and be okay with it. An idea that inspires is worth expressing—so go out and build it into a great story.
One of the greatest ways to tell if you’re aligned with your Professional Destiny is simply to check in and see if your 9-5 day feels like a struggle, or if the time passes by before you know it. When you’re fully engaged in an activity, you enter the flow. You feel strong, alert, effortlessly effective and satisfied. You’re at the peak of your ability and become unaware of time. When you’re not well matched with what you’re doing, it’s the opposite—you’re feeling out of sync, less motivated, less productive, disengaged and more prone to watching the clock. Needless to say, it’s far more satisfying to find a way to be in alignment with your gifts, interests, values and creative abilities in the work environment—especially if you’re like most people and tend to spend so much of your time there.
How to do this? It all starts with awareness. The following is a passage from Professional Destiny that describes in more detail what to look for and what to avoid…
“Notice what you enjoy doing and what you are good at. Make some time to do these things and rekindle your creativity. Concentration, or being in the flow, means total absorption. We can only be masters of something that interests us greatly. Great leaders and great inventors are not bored with their work. If you pay attention, you will notice that you are experiencing moments of joy when you are creating, working and learning. You forget about the world around you and lose track of your surroundings, fully experiencing the joy of what you are doing.
You come into flow in your life when you awaken your sense of destiny. You fall out of flow when you renege on your gifts and potential, or when you ignore your deepest calling and settle for mediocrity. Our tasks cannot be too simple for our abilities or we become bored and less creative. Whether things are “seamlessly clicking” or “rapidly combusting” is a sign of whether you are in or out of step with the flow.”
In other words, when you’re in step—and in your gift—things tend to fall into place. You’re motivated and more effective. What you do is easy for you, although it may be far more difficult for others. When you’re not in your gift things tend to be more of a struggle or even worse, spiral downward.
Simplicity is a sign of being in the flow. Usually if something is simple, elegantly efficient and practically effortless, it is a wonderful indicator that you’re on the right track.
Last week I was interviewed by Jen Spencer of Jen Spencer Coaches about Professional Destiny and how to make it work both for large organizations and for individuals wanting to pursue a new interest. She had some great questions. Here is an excerpt of that interview. Enjoy!
How do you define Professional Destiny?
A job is something we do to earn a living. Oftentimes it is too small for our spirit.
Our Professional Destiny is a mighty undertaking that challenges us, taps into our creative energy and reawakens our spirit. It is our work with a capital W. Once we start on the path, our passion and creativity are ignited. Best of all, we feel like our work is meaningful and that we are making a difference.
You’ve worked for and consulted with Fortune 500 companies. What key pieces of Professional Destiny would you highlight for large organizations that are managing many talent pools?
Recognize people’s natural talents and that they may have “spiky” skills (i.e. they are remarkable at 1-2 things). Don’t try to “homogenize” them and make them well-rounded. Great leaders are like conductors of an orchestra. It’s not about how they look behind the podium; it’s how they bring out the unique brilliance of each of their players. For more information I write a blog series on this very subject called “Why Most Corporations Homogenize Remarkable People.”
What tips would you give to someone that is currently working in a six-figure job that doesn’t match their Professional Destiny. Tips for redirecting, especially when you have financial obligations?
I have two pieces of advice. The first is to start dedicating a portion of your time (in the evenings/weekends) toward the pursuit of your professional passion. Your time could be spent networking, building a website, writing, painting, doing research… whatever. This enables you to build a foundation and make interesting contacts that will open new doors and opportunities. The second piece of advice is to make a financial plan that allows you to pare down to the bare essentials so that you can invest in yourself to make your dream happen. I call this “The Freedom Plan.” It’s a plan that buys your freedom to do what you love.
What sources of inspiration do you use/read/watch? Any role models that guide you?
I find inspiration all around me in books, music and audio CD’s (my current favorites: Lynne Grabhorn, Caroline Myss, and Jerry and Esther Hicks – they’re great to listen to in the car!). I’m also a great observer of people—I find JK Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert’s talks inspiring). I’ve had many coaches and I surround myself with supportive friends. I feel like I’m learning everywhere I turn!
Professional Destiny® is about finding the career you were born for. I've created this site to help you in your pursuit. Here, you'll find excerpts from my book, as well as new ideas and stories to help you make the most of your natural gifts. We're a community, so please join the conversation!