After live tweeting the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder meeting on April 30th, I found myself constantly tweeting quotes not from Warren Buffett, but from his partner, Charlie Munger.
To provide some insight into Charlie Munger, I’ll share three of my favorite quotes from the 6 hours of live Q&A. (If you still want to watch the event, it is available as full replay until the end of this month via THIS LINK)
On his number one regret in life: “I didn’t wise up fast enough…there’s a blessing in that…now that I’m 92, there’s still a lot of ignorance left to remove.”
On making money: “You don’t need to have a high IQ to be rich. You only need to avoid real stupid mistakes.”
On having a sense of humor: “If you see the world accurately, it’s bound to be humorous because it’s ridiculous.”
My first three visits to Omaha to see the annual meeting in person were solely because I wanted to see Charlie Munger. I had read a few books on Warren, but I didn’t know much about Charlie Munger until I read The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.
At over 800 pages, the book is a tremendously deep dive into the world of Warren Buffett.
Naturally, it covers all aspects of investing, philosophy, philanthropy, and as Alice Schroeder puts it, “The business of life,” and of course, Charlie Munger.
While I believe the book fails to cover some topics (such as how important Warren’s first wife Suzie was during their 52 year marriage), the amount of knowledge contained in these pages is invaluable.
The most rewarding aspect of the book for me was introducing Charlie Munger on a new level. I had known of him simply as Warren’s partner, but I didn’t realize how critical he was to Warren’s life.
I want to quote part of the book for you today to represent a lot about how remarkable this man is.
I hope these quotes demonstrate the struggles he went through and how he persevered through what I would consider as one of the most terrible situations imaginable.
By 1953, [at age of 29]…Munger found himself divorcing at a time when divorce was a disgrace…Then, within a year of the separation, [his son] Teddy, now eight years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. Munger and his ex-wife scoured the medical community but quickly discovered the disease was incurable. They sat in the leukemia ward with the other parents and grandparents in different stages of watching their children waste away.
Charlie would visit, hold him in his arms, then walk the streets of Pasadena, crying for his son.
He found the combination of his failed marriage and his son’s terminal illness almost unbearable.
By the time Teddy died in 1955 at age nine, Charlie had lost between ten and fifteen pounds. “I can’t imagine any experience in life worse than losing a child inch by inch,” he later said.
Years later, during a commencement speech at Stanford, Charlie would summarize what he had learned during this phase of his life:
Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge, and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought. Self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia…Every time you find your drifting into self-pity, I don’t care what the cause, your child could be dying from cancer, self-pity is not going to improve the situation. It’s a ridiculous way to behave.
Life will have terrible blows, horrible blows, unfair blows, it doesn’t matter. Some people recover and others don’t. There I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He thought that every mischance in life was an opportunity to behave well. Every mischance in life was an opportunity to learn something and that your duty was not to be emerged in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in a constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.
The power of that speech is made more memorable to me because Charlie never mentioned the fact that his own son died of cancer.
As Alice Schroeder put it, “When things went wrong, Munger would set out toward new goals rather let himself dwell on the negative. That could come across as pragmatic, or even callous, but he viewed it as keeping the horizon in sight.”
Understanding the mindset of a billionaire can be insightful not just in terms of building wealth or developing a work ethic or committing to lifelong learning, but also in terms of approaching life with the right attitude.
Adopting Charlie Munger’s approach has helped me during the most difficult times I’ve experienced in my own life.
Since 2011, every few months I still re-read a set of my favorite quotes from that same commencement speech.
If you want to view Munger’s Stanford commencement address, check out the link here.
My favorite quote from Charlie Munger still remains as, “The safest way to try and get what you want is to try and deserve what you want.”
Charlie Munger’s #1 reading suggestion was and still is, “Read anything by Ben Franklin.” If you’re familiar with my own story of learning about personal finance, you might now be connecting the dots.
The very first book I read on the topic of personal finance was a biography of Warren Buffett, who introduced me to Charlie Munger, who recommended learning from Benjamin Franklin, who demonstrated in his life that retiring at 42 was possible.
What did you take away from the Berkshire Annual meeting this year? Is it necessary to go through pain and suffering to learn the lessons taught by Munger? Does building wealth, or life in general, require such a strong sense of fortitude?