Billionaire Jeff Bezos is one of the world’s richest people thanks to a risk he took when he was 30 years old.
When the Amazon founder and CEO was in college, he promised himself he would one day start and run his own business. At 30, Bezos made the decision to quit his job to make his dream a reality.
In a fireside chat with brother Mark Bezos at the 10th annual Summit LA conference, he said his decision required “a lot of soul-searching.” He added that the best way to make that kind of “very personal decision” is by asking yourself, “What does your heart say?”
For Bezos, that meant living a life without regrets, especially in old age.
“For me, the best way to think about it was to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘Look, when I’m 80 years old, I want to have minimized the number of regrets that I have,'” he said.
“I don’t want to be 80 years old and in a quiet moment of reflection, thinking back over my life and cataloging a bunch of major regrets,” Bezos added.
Growing up, Bezos was a straight-A high school student, the valedictorian of his class and accepted for early admission to Princeton, according to biographer Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.” Bezos even thought for a moment in college that he would be a theoretical physicist.
But he scratched that plan when he instead majored in computer science and electrical engineering, then went on to work in finance after college, according to a 1999 Wired article. While working at hedge fund D. E. Shaw in the early 1990s, eight years out of college, Bezos got the idea to sell books over the Internet.
“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,” Bezos said in a 2010 address at his alma mater Princeton.
Bezos went to his boss at the time, told him about his internet bookstore idea and how he already had the support of his wife.
“I think this is a good idea, but I think this would be an even better idea for somebody that didn’t already have a good job,” Bezos said his boss told him. His manager asked Bezos to take a few days to think about it.
“So I went away and I was really trying to get my head around how to think about this,” Bezos said.
That’s when Bezos considered what his 80-year-old self would say if he did or didn’t take on this opportunity.
“In most cases, our biggest regrets turn out to be acts of omission. It’s paths not taken and they haunt us. We wonder what would have happened,” Bezos said. “I knew that when I’m 80, I would never regret trying this thing that I was super excited about and it failing. If it failed, fine. I would be very proud of the fact when I’m 80 that I tried. I also knew that it would always haunt me if I didn’t try.”
In “The Everything Store,” Bezos said that he knew he would never think about why he walked away from his 1994 Wall Street bonus in his old age. Why? Because that wouldn’t matter as much 50 years down the line.
“It would be a 100 percent chance of regret if I didn’t try and basically a 0 percent chance of regret if I tried and failed,” Bezos added. “So I think that’s a useful metric for any important life decision.”