Charlie Munger held his last in-depth interview with CNBC’s Becky Quick in mid-November 2023. The interview was meant for a 1-hour special celebrating Munger’s 100th birthday, but was re-edited to become “Charlie Munger: A Life of Wit and Wisdom”. I don’t have cable TV anymore, but CNBC has thankfully released a
I highlighted a few Munger quotes below along with brief commentary. If you aren’t familiar with the “greatest hits” of Munger wisdom, definitely check out the full transcript or video. I will definitely miss mining through these interviews for the “new to me” gold.
Playing the hand you are dealt.
…I just played the hand I was dealt in order to get as much advantage as I could. And that’s what everybody else does too. They play the hand that was dealt to get as much advantage as they possibly can.
Think about the country/environment you were born, your parents, and your genetically-influenced gifts and challenges. Those are three huge things, and none of us had any choice in any of them. In fact, I’m certain many of you readers have overcome more obstacles than I can imagine. I hope to teach my children about appreciating their blessings, accepting their challenges, and to keep striving while giving grace to others. Heck, I hope to teach myself that too. Work in progress…
Stay in your circle of competence. I definitely believe that you need to enjoy what you’re doing to do it well, but I am also a firm believer in practical considerations.
And so I decided to stay the hell out of businesses where I would compete with people like Eddie Davis, Jr. and Eddie Davis, Sr. in their strong suit.
BECKY QUICK: Knowing your competencies.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Knowing your circle of competency. Right. And that kept me away from those businesses totally.
Maintain a margin of safety.
But really, it’s knowing you can have a very bad day. Do not live your life in such a fashion that a bad day can kill you.
But also be ready to take risks when the odds are in your favor.
But Grandfather Ingham just talked endlessly about the early days and how he’d surmounted all these hardships. And he says that it looks pretty easy, “looking back at it with retrospect, but it was damn hard, I want you to know.” And he said, “And in reviewing my life, what your grandchildren have to realize, it was his version of Robinson Crusoe, he told every grandchild, “Is when they give you a real opportunity, the world’s not gonna do it very often. And you’re only gonna get three or four of these invitations to the pie counter. And when you get your invitation, for God sakes, don’t take a small helping.” He basically said, “Lever up when you’re sure you’re right.” And of course that’s good advice. But be sure you’re right is what makes it hard. How can you be sure you’re right? Well, but you can’t. That’s the point. You can’t do it very often.
BECKY QUICK: I mean, Charlie, people probably look at you and think you’re incredibly wealthy, you’ve had all these great opportunities and things that have happened in your life. But you’ve struggled too.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Of course. Everybody struggles. The iron rule of life is everybody struggles.
BECKY QUICK: I try and think back of what the toughest moments might’ve been and how you got through some of those. And, I mean–
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, we all know how to get through them. The great philosophers of realism are also the great philosophers of what I call soldiering through. If you soldier through, you can get through almost anything. And it’s your only option. You can’t bring back the dead, you can’t cure the dying child. You can’t do all kinds of things. You have to soldier through it. You just somehow you soldier through. If you have to walk through the streets, crying for a few hours a day as part of the soldiering, go ahead and cry away. But you have to – you can’t quit. You can cry all right, but you can’t quit.
BECKY QUICK: You’ve had time in your life when you’ve done that?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Sure. I cried all the time when my first child died. But I knew I couldn’t change the fate. In those days, the fatality with childhood leukemia was 100%.
One of the things you’ll notice is that none of these quotes offer easy advice. It’s all annoyingly difficult stuff like keep plowing ahead, take smart risks, maintain reasonable expectations.
For some reason, I am always reminded of an old beer commercial (wish I could find the clip) where a man talks about raising his kids and finally sending them off to college. He basically says it was a long and hard journey and the other guy in the bar says something like “Well, you should be proud.” And the first guy realizes “Yeah, I should.” Nobody else knows all of your struggles. You don’t have to become a billionaire to be proud of your accomplishments.
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