Oh, the Place You'll go. Advice from Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg

It’s that time of the year. Every small town and large city celebrates their graduates who are embarking on their lives ahead. The proud students overflow through the streets in cap and gowns, filled with the promise of the future, eager to hear the wise words of the commencement speakers.

I’ve been very moved by the commencement speeches of Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg. Bezos’s speech was given to Princeton’s graduating class back in 2010, and Sandberg gave her speech last weekend at U.C. Berkeley. Both speakers are two of the most tech-savvy entrepreneurs in the world. But beyond their industry connection, their speeches are very relevant to one another.

They both encourage us to embrace our own mortality. Bezos projects forward to being 80 years old, and how to arrive at that moment minimizing regrets. Sandberg is in moment, the present, immersed in the emotions from the grief of losing her husband. For Sandberg, death isn’t some future moment from which to learn, it is in the here and now.

Jeff Bezos’ Commencement Speech Excerpt:

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?
I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.

Sheryl Sandberg in her speech at U.C.Berkeley offers us this path forward .

“It’s the hard days — the days that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are…The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.”

https://news.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Sheryl-Sandberg-Berkeley-commencement-speech.pdf

In a different way than Bezos, Sandberg too offers the idea that You are Your Choices. Yes, faced with the inevitable setbacks and loss, you can choose to live life filled with despair. Or you can choose joy.

“I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.”

Sandberg’s speech references one of the leading psychologists in the world, Martin Seligman. He has scientific evidence that the three P’s — personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence — are a path to bounce back from hardship.

Here is how I internalize the learnings from her speech.

  1. Personalization: when problems come up, we are wired to think in our heads that we are to blame. Most of us speak to ourselves with very self-critical inner voices. So, try to de-personalize the setback. What does it look like to think, I am not to blame, this is not my fault. As Sandberg notes, “Not taking failures personally allows us to recover — and even to thrive.”
  2. Pervasiveness: when setbacks occur, we are wired to think that the setback will cross over into all areas of our life. Think about how often your thinking goes like this, I had a bad meeting at work…so, I am having a bad day at work….and now my day sucks. What does it look like to create boundaries, draw a mental moat or a ring around the problem. Yes, it may be bad. It may even be terrible, but maybe just that part is dreadful. Find the other parts of your life that are going well. What do you have to grateful for? What are you thankful for?
  3. Permanence: when we feel that vortex or swirl engulfing us, we are wired to think it is permanent. We become stuck. We relish in our own stuck-ness. What does it look like to accept— to acknowledge the pain, the grief, the immense loss, and then to recognize that those feelings need not not last forever.

I mention the “wiring” of the 3 Ps, because our brains are wired to protect us. As Sandberg notes “Just as our bodies have a physiological immune system, our brains have a psychological immune system — and there are steps you can take to help kick it into gear.”

Sandberg shares two mindset shifts to jump-start our psychological immune system:

  1. Become a Gratitude Seeker: This is the most powerful way to start taking steps forward. Find the small moments of joy in each and every day. Declare yourself on a mission to discover your moments of spark. Seek it out, notice it, and then write it down. Create a wonderful habit of reflecting back on those gratitude moments, and journal about it. You will release an effusive inner power by actually writing it down each and every day.
“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude — gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude — not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”

2. Embrace your resilience. Cultivate your resilience.

“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”

How do we develop Resilience?

This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

Thank you to Jeff Bezos and Sheryl Sandberg for sharing so authentically and vulnerably your views on making the most out of precious life.

So, what to do with all their great advice? I’ve been trying to craft a personal mantra, a sort of life mission statement. This isn’t in a final form. I know I will edit it. After all… this is the version of my own life story. But this does help me be more intentional. I share this with you, as maybe you too will choose to create your own life mission statement.

Who am I?

I am a seeker. I thirst to learn from others, and let their wisdom be a guiding force. I embrace that my life is finite, time is my most precious resource. I have choices that I make each and every day. I choose to Dare Greatly. When I face the inevitable twists and turns, when I feel like I have been knocked down, I will look inside myself and get back up. I know that I have the strength within to rise again. When I slip into fault-finding and negativity, I will catch myself. I will try harder to live each day appreciating the small glorious and magical moments.

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