Life according to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger: Write your own obituary and avoid toxic people

A picture of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger sitting side-by-side
Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting this past weekend.
Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Legendary investing duo Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger take the stage every year at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in Omaha to share their investing advice and other wisdom, including how to live a good life, with thousands of fans. Buffett, 92, and Munger, 99, have led one of the world’s most profitable companies for nearly six decades, and that’s perhaps why their philosophy about achieving personal and professional success rings true for a lot of people. 

On Saturday, the two investors were asked a number of questions about how to make sound decisions during the Q&A session of the shareholder meeting, such as one about how to avoid making mistakes in life and business. 

“You should write your obituary and then try to figure out how to live up to it,” Buffett said in response. “It’s not that complicated.”

The two billionaires also weighed in on how to chase success—and an important part of it is keeping away from “toxic” people.

“The great lesson of life is get them the hell out of your life—and do it fast,” Munger said of people who are a bad influence. But that’s not all: He advises people to also be prudent with money and always be open to learning throughout their lives. 

“It’s so simple to spend less than you earn, and invest shrewdly, and avoid toxic people and toxic activities, and try and keep learning all your life, and do a lot of deferred gratification. If you do all those things, you are almost certain to succeed. If you don’t, you’re going to need a lot of luck.” 

Buffett agreed with Munger, noting that cutting out toxic people should be done “tactfully.” But while distancing from toxic influences is important, the Oracle of Omaha warned against vilifying people. He said that burning bridges would lead to a worse outcome: having no friends at all.

“I’ve never known anybody that was basically kind that died without friends,” Buffett said. “And I’ve known plenty of people with money that have died without friends.”

Berkshire Hathaway: 2023 and beyond

Over time, Berkshire has built a reputation as a robust business. It is seen as a bellwether for economic health because of its wide range of holdings, from insurance to utilities to retail. In a shareholder letter in March, Buffett said the company’s shareholders have earned a return of 3,787,464% over the 58 years that it’s existed. 

Berkshire recorded an operating profit, which excludes investments, of $8 billion for the last quarter, up 13% from the previous year. Even though the company’s results showed an increase from 2022, Buffett generally felt pessimistic about where the economy was headed.

“The majority of our businesses will report lower earnings this year than last year,” Buffett said, cautioning that the U.S. economy’s “incredible period” may be coming to an end. Munger added that some types of investors should “get used to making less” money. 

But billion-dollar conglomerates may still fare well in these volatile times. Buffett said that rising interest rates and a strong insurance market will help pull the company up in 2023.

During the meeting, Buffett also told investors about his successor as Berkshire’s CEO—Greg Abel, who is currently vice-chairman for its non-insurance operations. Buffett said he was “100% comfortable” with Abel taking the reins after him and that Berkshire was “lucky” to have him. 

“Greg understands capital allocation as well as I do,” Buffett said. 

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