In 1994, Jeff Bezos was working at a Wall Street hedge fund, making great money in what he called a “stable career path.”
But he had a crazy idea. One that would require him to quit his job for a riskier path. He wanted to start a business selling books online.
“[I wanted] to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal.”
His wife supported him, but his boss advised him against it:
“This actually sounds like a great idea. But it would be a better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job!”
Bezos and Amazon are having a bit of a moment right now. The left-field Whole Foods acquisition. Bezos being dubbed the richest man in the world – for a few hours at least. The internet exploding over his biceps exploding.
So I thought it timely to share a powerful lesson I learned from Bezos in the vein of our recent theme: how to decide.
Jeff Bezos’s decision to launch Amazon may seem like a ‘duh’ decision now, but please remember what the internet looked like in 1994:
“Don’t start with the problem, start with the people. Start with empathy.” –Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, Designing Your Life
Last week I explored a super-nerdy approach to choosing my next project(s).
This week, I’d like to touch on another decision-making tool, one based less on personal drivers like interests, values and excitement, and more on the external factor of service.
This question came courtesy Monika in Vienna, who responded to my post with an excerpt from her book Work Trips and Road Trips:
“When you know who the people are you want to serve with your work – which doesn’t even have to be just one specific group, it can be multiple – it will be easier to decide how you want to allocate your time and your resources. Knowing who shall benefit from your work will automatically make it easier to decide what sort of work or volunteering activities you might want to pursue.”
I touched on Monika’s question “who do you want to serve?” with one of my decision criteria last week: purpose. But I wasn’t specific about whom might benefit from purpose-related work. I brainstormed 10 communities or types of people I have served or would like to serve with my work:
Last week I posed the question “How do you choose what’s next?” I’m considering this in my own career, as I evaluate where to spend my time and energy, and what new projects to sink my teeth into.
Some of you responded with fantastic resources and ideas – thank you! This is a huge topic, one that books could and have been written on. And the more I dig into this…it’s a deep dark rabbit hole down here. So I’ll approach this topic Bird by Bird – one thought at a time.
In the spirit of personal growth and learning in public (what this blog is all about), I’ll also use myself as a case study to explore decision making frameworks in real time over the coming weeks.
“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
I’ve spent the last couple weeks cleaning up the blog, relaunching this weekly newsletter (more on that here if you missed it). Some running, some weights, and when I tweaked my foot last week, mending it back to health.
I’ve been reading and writing a bunch too, including dusting off old, unfinished posts, which I’m excited to share in the coming weeks.
But mostly it feels like I’m procrastinating on making a decision:
What project do I work on next?
When you’re a human in midst of reinventing yourself, no question produces angst like the cookie cutter: “So, what do you do?”
One day we’ll collectively design a better question. Until then, you and I will continue to fight the good fight, attempting to sum up our zig-zagged lives and convoluted careers in a breezy byline that both pleases and delights.
Or we’ll continue to introduce ourselves however we damn well please.
Either way, we can find solace in the fact that some of the most fascinating people alive today struggle with a punchy one-liner as well.
On his wildly popular podcast, Tim Ferriss asks many of his guests a version of: How do you currently answer the question, “what do you do?”
Here’s a baker’s dozen of my favorite answers.