In different periods of my life, I paid attention to different kinds of character traits. These days, it’s grace. But it hasn’t always been. Early in my career, I was particularly drawn to ambition. I read all the PG essays and idolized the early YC founders. I believed that ambition was 80% of the reason behind any success. It was the trait that lead to enormous risk appetites, and fueled the grit and creativity to satiate it.
I still love ambition, but lately, I’ve also become far more attuned to the presence of grace. Definining grace is tricky. We often use it casually to mean beauty. That’s not what I’m interested in. The version I like is closer to the Christian definition, which is “free and unmerited favour that God gave to humanity by sending Jesus to die”. I think the first time I became aware of Grace was in my senior year of college. My seatmate Louisa spotted me reading Khalil Gibran in a particularly boring business school class and invited me to her Bible study group.
I was kind of an ass. I was sleeping in an unheated basement in Canada, stressed from running a startup, and dealing with a heavy courseload. Each night I went to their study group, I asked a ton of super skeptical questions – all of which they answered in good faith. Never trying to convert me. Just answering my questions as best they could. They even invited me to sleep over on their couch when they discovered my questionable sleeping arrangement.
It wasn’t until much later that I had come to understand what they exibited as grace. If I have to describe it in my own words, it’s when you are good only because it is the right thing to do. Grace is a stronger version of nice, a more private version of generosity, a more intrinsict version charity. It’s in some ways the opposite of justice – which is about dealing to each what they deserve. Grace is when you believe in each person’s inherent worth in all cicumstances, and act according to that.
These days, graceful is now the highest level of compliment I give.