Billionaire Jeff Bezos says being smart isn't enough—you also need this to be successful

Kids Make Cents: Future Jobs
Kids Make Cents: Future Jobs

As a kid, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos learned an important lesson from his grandfather: Kindness is just as important as intelligence in order to be successful.

Bezos, who was briefly the richest person in the world, learned this lesson one summer when spending time with his grandparents on their Texas ranch when he was ten years old. The self-made billionaire, who Forbes estimates is worth $82.6 billion, recounted the story during baccalaureate remarks he made at Princeton University.

As a child, he said he was obsessed with math and would find any reason to show off his prowess with numbers. He would calculate everything, including gas mileage, useless statistics and grocery spending.

One day, while sitting in the back of his grandparents' car, he overheard an ad on the radio, which said that every puff of a cigarette takes minutes off your total lifespan.

Bezos said his grandmother was a smoker, which he hated, so he decided to calculate the number of years she had taken off her life thus far.

"I estimated the number of cigarettes per days, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on," Bezos told the graduating class.

"When I was satisfied…I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder and proudly proclaimed, 'At two minutes per puff, you've taken nine years off your life!'" he explained.

Bezos sat expectantly as he waited to be applauded for his wit and "arithmetic skills." Instead, he said, his grandmother burst into tears.

His grandfather pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car and waited for his grandson to exit the vehicle, Bezos recalls. He then told him, "Jeff, one day you'll understand that it's harder to be kind than clever."

Bezos told the Princeton grads that there is a difference between using gifts, such as intelligence, and making choices in life. "Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice," said Bezos. Although being smart comes in handy, kindness is invaluable to achieving your career goals, he says.

He left the graduates with these final thoughts: "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."

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