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Warren Buffett thinks everyone should hear this advice for living a successful life without regrets

David A. Grogan

People don't call Warren Buffett the Oracle of Omaha for nothing. Each year, thousands of investors flock to Nebraska to hear him speak at the annual meeting of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, and millions more around the world watch, listen and read his remarks.

It's no wonder anyone looking to make a buck is interested in Buffett's advice. When you've racked up an estimated net worth north of $120 billion, you must be doing something right.

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But it's not just financial wisdom Buffett's followers seek. Whenever Buffett takes questions, he's nearly always asked more generally about the secrets to a better life. Many of his answers of late — inspired by the recent passing of his longtime friend and business partner Charlie Munger and perhaps by his own advancing age — have revolved around the theme of mortality.

Buffett chalks up much of his and Berkshire's success to the avoidance of major mistakes. His best advice for doing that, offered at the 2023 shareholder meeting: "Write your obituary, and try and figure out how to live up to it."

Here's how he says to do it.  

Imagine your obituary and work backward

Buffett brought up the obituary concept again at the 2024 meeting in response to a shareholder who asked, "What advice would you like to share today that you believe everyone needs to hear?"

His concept of starting with your legacy and working backward, he said, means choosing the right "educational paths" and "social paths" to get you where you want to go.

Buffett added that living in modern-day America gave anyone the best chance in world history at accomplishing the things they dream about.

"You're entering the best world that's ever existed. And you want to find the people to share it with and the activities to participate in that fit you," he said. "And if you get lucky like Charlie and I did, you'll find things that interest you young. But if you don't find them right away, you keep looking."

That may require some trial and error, Buffett acknowledged.

"I always tell students, find a job that you would like to have if you didn't need a job. Sometimes you can find that very early, and sometimes you go through various experiences," he said. "But don't forget what you're actually trying to do."

Figure out a way to start meeting your important people now

Buffett also places enormous stock in surrounding yourself with the right people. To get to the obituary you want, "certainly in my day, it would have been marrying the person that would help you do that," he said.

But your nonromantic and working relationships matter, too. At this year's meeting, Buffett fielded a question about what he'd do if he had one more day with right-hand man Munger.

It likely would have been more of the same. "In effect, I did have one more day. I mean, it wasn't a full day or anything, but we always lived in a way that we were happy with what we were doing every day," he said.

Sure, Buffett said, he and Munger liked playing golf and tennis together, but really, they loved spending their working lives together — a rewarding partnership that would be unaffected by having one more day or one fewer.

For that reason, Buffett urged his shareholders to go out and find a Munger of their own.

"What you should probably ask yourself is, who do you feel you'd want to start spending the last day of your life with, and then figure out a way to start meeting them tomorrow, and meet them as often as you can," Buffett said. "Why wait until the last day? And don't bother with the others."

Measure success by the number of people who love you

When Buffett's obituaries are eventually written, they'll undoubtedly detail how he built Berkshire Hathaway along with his enormous fortune. But those aren't the passages Buffett would likely care about.

Near the end of your life, your only measure of success should be the number of "people you want to have love you actually do love you," he said at a 2001 presentation at the University of Georgia.

"I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them," said Buffett. "If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster."

An easy way to avoid that fate is to be kind, Buffett said at his 2023 shareholder meeting. "I've never known anybody that was basically kind that died without friends," he said.

But to truly build loving relationships, Buffett said, you'll have to be a loving person yourself.

"The only way to get love is to be lovable. It's very irritating if you have a lot of money. You'd like to think you could write a check: I'll buy a million dollars' worth of love," he joked back in 2001. "But it doesn't work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get."

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