As you may have realized by now, I have a penchant for reading commencement speeches. In staying true to this theme in my life, I was recently reading a commencement speech given by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s longtime business partner, to the 1986 graduating class of Harvard University. Charlie was riffing on a previous speech that Johnny Carson had given to a graduating class at Harvard. The gist of Johnny’s speech was that although he may not be able to tell the graduates how to live a happy life, he could give them advice on three things to do if they wanted to live a miserable life. They included the following:
- Ingesting chemicals in an effort to alter mood or perception;
- Envy; and
Charlie’s speech was his prescription to how to live a miserable life and he added a few interesting anecdotes to what Carson had suggested. In reading through the speech I found myself stuck on one paragraph that I would like to share. Charlie wrote:
“My third prescription for misery is to go down and stay down when you get your first, second, third severe reverse in the battle of life. Because there is so much adversity out there, even for the lucky and wise, this will guarantee that, in due course, you will be permanently mired in misery. Ignore at all cost the lesson contained in the accurate epitaph written for himself by Epicetus: “Here lies Epicetus, a slave, maimed in body, the ultimate in poverty, and favoured by Gods.”
I have found that in business and in life it is easy to feel great about things when things are going well. We see this when people fall in love and are in the honeymoon stage of their relationship. We see this when people start a new project or new job and are excited at the prospects of the experience. As a society, we glamorize this when we hear about the business that is on top of the world and can do no wrong. Or when a team is the front runner and their “new fans” come out of nowhere. Or when people flock to live in a city or town because of an oil boom or tech bubble. But this is not reality and this inevitably will not lead us to living a life of happiness as these wins will not all last.
At some point we will deal with a loss or a struggle in many aspects of our life. If you have been in the mortgage industry for more than seven years, you did not stay here because you stayed down when the market imploded. You fought like hell to stay in this business and be successful. The Money Source did not magically become one of the largest lenders in the United States overnight without adversity. It happened because Stavros went against the grain in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. He looked at hundreds of opportunities and tested hundreds of business ideas until a couple stuck (Correspondent lending, starting Endeavor America, bringing servicing in-house, etc.)
If Growing Happiness is the opposite of living a life of misery and if we are to take Charlie Munger’s wise words to heart, then I start to think to myself, “what are the things I can do to continue to living our core purpose when I deal with adversity?” I would be lying if I said I have it figured out. Although I have figured out a couple of things;
- I need to work within my strengths to stay engaged, because it is easy to get disengaged when the going gets tough and distractions are everywhere around you.
- I need to collaborate with my managers and my team to make sure they are thriving within their strengths, which will help support my ability to work within my strengths, as that is the only way to stay focused and to conquer in the world of business.
- I need to be thankful for what I have and not take any experience for granted – good or bad – as there are always lessons to be learned in both.
I am sure I am missing a few more, but I do believe these ideas have served me well when I have dealt with reversals in the battle of life. MY question that I leave all of you with is:
What steps will you take in your life to Grow Happiness when you are dealt with a reversal in your daily battles? Who will you lean on to help you stay within your strengths and remain engaged when you deal with adversity? And lastly but most importantly, what is it that you have to be thankful for?
Click here for Munger's entire speech