This is a Warren Buffett birthday post, and like all birthday wishes, I will not take long. This message will never reach Mr. Buffett, but I silently hope the thoughts form some kind of waves and time-travel to reach him before he celebrates his 100th birthday.
Dear Mr. Buffett,
Happy birthday to you.
Trust you are doing well, feeling young at 91, and in the pink of your health.
I read your biographer Alice Schroeder’s book on your life, and loved how she started it –
It is the winter of Warren’s ninth year. Outside in the yard, he and his little sister, Bertie, are playing in the snow. Warren is catching snowflakes. One at a time at first. Then he is scooping them up by handfuls. He starts to pack them into a ball. As the snowball grows bigger, he places it on the ground. Slowly it begins to roll. He gives it a push, and it picks up more snow. He pushes the snowball across the lawn, piling snow on snow. Soon he reaches the edge of the yard. After a moment of hesitation, he heads off, rolling the snowball through the neighborhood.
And from there, Warren continues onward, casting his eye on a whole world full of snow.
I have not seen a snowball in my life, or even rolled one down a hill. That I think is not a problem, because I have also not seen you in real.
But I have read and learned so much about you over the years that I can vividly visualize the 10-year-old you rolling a snowball down your life’s hill, and still collecting your snowflakes and doing great 81 years later.
Your snowball has served me enormous lessons in most things I do in life, in my relationships, for my health, and in investing. Investing – compounding wealth – really is the last thing that I would mark in my list of spheres where you have impacted my life.
The most important lesson I have learned from seeing your small snowball morph into a gigantic one over years is this –
- Find Wet snow – the good things I can do in life with myself and those around me,
- Find a long hill – starting early so that I have time (which is a massively powerful variable in the process of the snowball compounding in size) to allow the snowball to keep rolling and grow exponentially, and
- Let the snowball roll – letting it compound without interrupting it on its path.
I cannot thank you enough for these lessons for they have served me wonderfully in my life, and now I am happy teaching them to my kids who are ready with their tiny snowballs in search of their wet snow hills.
Oh, and of course, an associated lesson that your snowball has taught me is that I must not keep scores of the size of my own snowball, or whether it is smaller or bigger than anyone else’s. You have taught me to live with an “inner scorecard” – doing what I feel to be right, rather than using the “outer scorecard” and measuring myself by the opinions of others. You have clearly lived by your own inner scorecard, and that has been a wonderful learning.
I liked it when you said this explaining the idea of the inner scorecard –
The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.
I always pose it this way. I say: ‘Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?’ Now, that’s an interesting question.
Here’s another one. If the world couldn’t see your results, would you rather be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record? Or be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you were actually the best?
In teaching your kids, I think the lesson they’re learning at a very, very early age is what their parents put the emphasis on. If all the emphasis is on what the world’s going to think about you, forgetting about how you really behave, you’ll wind up with an Outer Scorecard.
At the end, since you asked Ms. Schroeder to write a “less flattering version” of a biography, I must tell you that despite seeing you with all your flaws (like eating too much junk food, which I would never advise to myself or my kids) and occasional mis-steps, I owe a large part of what I am today to your lessons in life.
Your friend Mr. Munger stands right up there too (please pass on my message to him, when you read this), but it is you who I visualize as a young and carefree boy who inspired me to let my own snowball roll down my hill of life without the fear of what the future might bring, or what others might say.
Happy birthday again, Mr. Buffett.
I wish you great health and happiness as you keep rolling your snowball on the wet snow of goodwill and generosity and the long hill of time.
You are just getting started.
With great respect and gratitude,