Takeaway Tuesday on Adversity inspired by Charlie Munger
Charlie Munger is best known as Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Independent of his work with Buffett, Munger is a successful businessman and philanthropist in his own right. An avid reader and life-long, multidisciplinary learner, he is admired for his witty life lessons and often-too-blunt pieces of advice. Born in 1924, he is 96 years young.
When handing out misfortune, life has no obligation to be fair.
In 1953, Charlie was 29 years old when he and his wife divorced. He had been married since he was 21. Charlie lost everything in the divorce, his wife keeping the family home in South Pasadena. Munger moved into “dreadful” conditions at the University Club…
Shortly after the divorce, Charlie learned that his son, Teddy, had leukemia. In those days, there was no health insurance, you just paid everything out of pocket and the death rate was near 100% since there was nothing doctors could do. Rick Guerin, Charlie’s friend, said Munger would go into the hospital, hold his young son, and then walk the streets of Pasadena crying.
One year after the diagnosis, in 1955, Teddy Munger died. Charlie was 31 years old, divorced, broke, and burying his 9 year old son.
If you are misfortunate, a victim mentality is incredibly useful if you wish to remain miserable…
Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, [think that] it’s actually you who are ruining your life. It’s such a simple idea. Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life.
If you just take the attitude that, however bad it is in anyway, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can – the so-called ‘iron prescription’ – I think that really works.
… as self-pity itself is guaranteed to never improve your position.
Well you can say that’s waggery, but I suggest that every time you find you’re drifting into self-pity, I don’t care what the cause, your child could be dying of cancer, self-pity is not going to improve the situation…
It’s a ridiculous way to behave, and when you avoid it you get a great advantage over everybody else, almost everybody else, because self-pity is a standard condition and yet you can train yourself out of it.
Alternatively, you can accept personal responsibility to better your situation…
Another thing of course is life will have terrible blows, horrible blows, unfair blows, doesn’t matter. And some people recover and others don’t. And 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 your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity but to utilize the terrible blow in a constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.
… because even in the worst of situations, you can still better yourself.
We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.
When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.
And this applies to more than just you – you can shoulder some of the responsibility for others, too.
My paternal grandfather was the only federal judge in Lincoln Nebraska, capital city of Nebraska and he’s been there forever and he stayed there forever…
[During the Great Depression] one [of the judge’s] son-in-laws was a musician. Of course, he couldn’t make a living so my grandfather, who didn’t have that much money, sent him to the pharmacy school. He carefully picking a profession that couldn’t fail… And my uncle’s soon prosperous and remained prosperous the rest of his life.
My other uncle had a bank in Stromsburg Nebraska… and of course he was a lovely man, but he was an optimist and a banker should not be an optimist. And when they closed the banks in 1933, the banking examiners came in and said you can’t reopen and it was the only business he had.
Well judge Munger always saved this money and he had a lot of good first mortgages on homes occupied by teetotaling German butchers and people he’d carefully pitch. Of course he never had a default… the people were sober and hardworking and so what my grandmother did is take 1/3 of his good mortgages, which is all he had, and put them in the bank and took all the lousy assets out of the bank.
So he saved two out of three of his children and I thought it was a pretty good thing to do.
Books Related to Charlie Munger
Poor Charlie’s Almanack: Collection of 11 of Munger’s Speeches
Damn Right!: Biography of Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe