Billionaire Warren Buffett’s financial sagacity has earned him the sobriquet “The Oracle of Omaha.” His lower-profile business partner, Charlie Munger, has never had a nickname. Until now.
I officially dub Munger “The Zen Master of Los Angeles.”
In a recent CNBC interview, Munger shared his philosophy for living a long and happy life. The Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman’s insights had nothing to do with working hard, beating the competition or amassing wealth and power. On the contrary, his comments would have made the Dalai Lama smile in recognition of a fellow spirit.
Munger offered a variety of tips that can be summarized this way: We can only control our own actions, thoughts, and choices. If we do that well and let go of our negative feelings towards the world, life can be joyously simple.
“You don’t have a lot of envy; you don’t have a lot of resentment,” Munger explained. “You don’t overspend your income; you stay cheerful in spite of your troubles. You deal with reliable people, and you do what you’re supposed to do. All these simple rules work so well to make your life better. And they’re so trite.”
The 95-year-old Munger says he understood these rules by age seven. Even as a child, he realized that many adults did not live by his code and were “a little bonkers.” That insight helped Munger better deal with all the irrationality he would experience from people in both his business and personal lives. To prevent himself from slipping into irrational thought, Munger strives to be cheerful and positive in all circumstances.
And Munger has seen a lot of circumstances. He and Buffett met in 1959 while both worked at a grocery store owned by Buffett’s grandfather. Munger became Buffett’s right-hand man at Berkshire Hathaway in 1978. As if the demands of helping Buffett build a business juggernaut weren’t enough to keep Munger busy, he also raised eight kids.
Munger’s Zen-like attitude served him well in that no-doubt demanding family home.
“Many of my children have worked out well, and I’ve had very little to do with it,” Munger told CNBC. “I think they come into the world, to a certain extent, pre-made. And you just sit there and watch. The shy baby is the shy adult. The booming, obnoxious, domineering baby is the booming, domineering, obnoxious adult. I’ve never found a way to fix that. I can be cheerful about it, but I can’t fix it. I can change my reaction, but I can’t change the outcome.”
Warren Buffett has long occupied a central spot in my pantheons of heroes – that small group of people whose insight and accomplishments I admire and seek to emulate. I think it might be time to prepare another pedestal – this one for Charlie Munger.