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Warren Buffett’s Secret to Success in One Simple Sentence

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While many of us are envious of the power and influence that is collectively bestowed upon the rich, we all can learn something from them. Warren Buffett, the man at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway, once share a bit of his wisdom with a 14-year-old who asked for advice. So what words of wisdom did Buffett offer his young protegee?

The occasion was a meeting of the Berkshire Hathaway board in 2004. Jason Zweig, a reporter, was present at the event.

Justin Fong,  a 14-year-old from California, asked Buffett what advice he had for young people like him.

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you,” Buffet responded.

“Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction,” he added.

Charlie Munger, Buffett’s partner saw the humor in the statement. “If this gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group, the hell with ’em,” he said, more colloquially.

There is some abstraction in Buffett’s statement, for sure, yet the meaning can be inferred easily enough. Aspirational role models compel us to improve. Those who are in command or control, no matter how consequential the circumstances, have little reason to change, much less to improve.

Marcel Schwantes, writing for Inc.com, added some interpretation to Buffett’s words. He broke it down into four component parts.

1. Hang out with people that have integrity.

“Buffett once said that you should never hire someone without [integrity], no matter how smart they are. He said: ‘You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two’.”

2. Hang out with intentionally focused people that know when to say ‘no.’

“‘The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything’,” Buffett says.

This advice is hard for some social climbers to swallow, and they stretch themselves too thin.

3. Hang out with people that feed their minds by reading.

Schwantes writes that “Buffett estimates that he spends 80 percent of his working day reading and thinking. When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said he ‘read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest’.”

4. Hang out with people that are legitimately loved by others.

Schwantes relies on Buffett’s biography for his last point: “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.” Buffett claims, “When you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.” He adds, “I know people who have a lot of money … but the truth is that nobody in the world loves them….that’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life.”