In middle school I would sometimes go to the Borders after school to read for a couple of hours. Every time I passed the biography section, I would wonder who on earth would want to read about the life of another person.

I would spend my time in the fiction section instead, picking up the newest “Pendragon” series or visiting classics like “The Hobbit”. I was drawn to those books because they contained protagonists that shouldered the heavy responsibility of defeating a seemingly insurmountable adversary. It was exciting to see the characters struggle, but eventually triumph over those opponents.
Strangely enough, nowadays I am up late into the night reading the biographies I had thought were so boring before. I found that although these are non-fiction books, the characters in them are almost as magical and powerful as those in the fiction novels I used to read. I’m currently reading “The Everything Store”, which talks about the meteoritic rise of Amazon, and how its founder Jeff Bezos was the catalyst to Amazon’s growth.
In a description that’s almost straight out of a fantasy book, Jeff is described as somebody who casts a “reality distortion field”. It’s the idea that these types of people are so persuasive and powerful that almost everyone and everything bends to him and his goals. It is almost no wonder that these iconic people, like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson, have a massive following behind them and the brands they represent.
Like most fabled startups, started in a garage with a handful of founders tinkering on a minimum viable product. Over time, slowly but surely, Jeff built out his team with top notch talent from Walmart, Apple, D. E. Shaw to join him in his fight against Barnes and Noble, Amazon’s biggest competitor at the time.
Although Amazon back in 1996 was posting impressive $16 million in sales, that number pales in comparison to Barnes and Nobles $2 billion in sales [1]. There were many skeptics and naysayers that told him that would never be able to compete with the behemoth Barnes and Noble. The Riggio brothers, Barnes and Noble’s founders, in a declaration of war, threatened that Barnes and Noble would soon launch an online component to crush Amazon. This was especially worrisome since Amazon was preparing for an IPO in the near future. Worse yet, Barnes and Noble filed a lawsuit against Amazon a couple days before its IPO in an effort to squash the startup. Amazon’s outlook seemed very bleak at the time.
Although Amazon’s employees were shaken, Jeff was unfazed. He would address his employees in an all-hands meeting and say the following: “Look, you should wake up worried, terrified every morning. But don’t be worried about our competitors because they are never going to send us any money anyway. Let’s be worried about our customers and stay heads-down focused.”
And heads-down focused they did stay. Through Jeff’s leadership and tenacity, Amazon is the one laughing on the way to the bank today with its massive $74.5 billion in sales [2]. Barnes and Noble on the other hand is lagging behind at $6.8 billion [3] in sales.
I had always thought intelligence was a prerequisite to becoming hugely successful in the world. Although Jeff was extremely smart, what he was known for was more for his strong willed determination to make Amazon succeed above everything else. My best friend once told me his favorite quote was this: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
If you are not satisfied with where you are, remember that you are still capable of great things as long as you pour your heart and soul into it. It seems a bit clichéd, but when people telling me they “aren’t smart enough”, or “it’s too late for them to get ahead”, I can’t help but think that they lack determination.


Of course, this is easier said than done, but I believe that with sufficient determination and hard work, our dreams won’t end up as works of fiction, but may one day be featured on one of the shelves in the non-fiction section.


[1] “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone

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