Clues to success usually lie in the daily lives and behaviors of high-achievers. That’s why my eyebrows raised when I learned from CNBC’s Make It of a powerful influence on Jeff Bezos embedded in a mundane, daily task: going to the refrigerator.
On his fridge, Bezos keeps the following quote, attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
There’s a lot going on in this powerful quote, so let’s take a closer look.
Laugh often and much.
Bezos has shown an ability to laugh at work, in life, even at himself. For all of us, it can be outward laughter from seeing the humor in almost any situation or a quieter inner giggle in those moments when you realize you’re immersed in doing something you love. I often have quiet moments of inner laughter when I’m writing or speaking from stage, two of my great passions.
Win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children.
The Amazon founder has earned respect from all walks of people, intelligent or not. He speaks of his desire to continually earn that respect, to treat every day at Amazon as if it was still Day 1 (as he calls it).
The juxtaposition of what it takes to earn intellectual respect versus the affection of a child is particularly interesting, because the latter is far more important and difficult. A child’s affection comes from an intentional, continued investment in their betterment–not always appearing as a friend, and doing things they won’t come to appreciate until years later.
No investment is more important.
Earn the appreciation of honest critics.
You get to choose who can criticize you. Not all criticizers are created equal; some shouldn’t even get a seat at the table. For those that make the cut, it’s important to view their critique for what it’s intended to do: to make you a better version of yourself.
You don’t set out to earn a critic’s appreciation. It’s a by-product of listening to what they say, taking the elements of it that ring true, and using them to improve. Some of the biggest improvements I’ve made and the most earnest respect I’ve earned came from critique that I took to heart, and not personally.
Endure betrayal of false friends.
Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends–except, of course, that wishing pain on anyone isn’t right. You’ll have to recover at some point from the hurtful actions of those you thought were friends (especially in business).
I suffered such pain as a child, when “friends” abandoned me because of physical disabilities. Same as an adult, when personal gain in business clouded what I viewed as loyal behavior from a friend.
I’ve endured. You will too.
Gratitude in all its forms is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Art, music, nature, human kindness, thoughtfulness and integrity are all forms of everyday beauty. See more of it, every day. Start each day thinking, “I’m going to pause and notice the beauty I might otherwise walk by today,”
Find the best in others.
The alternative is draining. Find the best in others and help accentuate it (versus just finding opportunities to help correct). Leaders who focus on enhancing existing strengths of individuals and teams tap into a tremendous source of natural energy and momentum. Pick one person a week and commit to finding/observing the best in them, and let them know when you see it.
Leave the world better–help better others’ lives.
Bezos hasn’t stopped at Amazon. He’s spoken about his hope that his space exploration company, Blue Origin, will help define his legacy. As he said in a 2016 interview: “If I’m 80 years old, looking back on my life, and the one thing I’ve done is make it so that there’s this gigantic entrepreneurial explosion in space for the next generation, I will be a happy, happy man.”
I’m guessing you’ll choose to make your mark on something bigger than yourself here on Earth. For me, I choose to try and improve the lives of those who read and hear my written and spoken word.
Whatever it is for you, stick it on your mental fridge and revisit it often.