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The Greatest Speeches in History: We Are What We Choose by Jeff Bezos

The Greatest Speeches in History is a weekly column that compiles the most memorable speeches in history with the goal to emphasize the power of public speaking, to illustrate its importance, impact, and necessity to master.

The infamous founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos is one of the most remarkable entrepreneurs of our times. As one of the pioneers in e-commerce, Bezos is a figure young first-time entrepreneurs can learn much from, including the commencement speech that he gave to Princeton’s Class of 2010, delivered on May 30, 2010. Here are the most important outtakes from this inspiring speech:

“What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. 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.”

“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 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.”

“Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own begins.

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?

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?”

“In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”

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