On May 13, 2007, Charlie Munger gave a memorable keynote speech at USC Law School’s commencement ceremony. While he is especially well known for his work as an investor and longtime associate of Warren Buffet, Munger began his career as a lawyer, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1948.
However, Munger did not deliver the typical go-get-‘em oratory packed with inspiration and lofty ideals of justice. Instead he offered up the most practical and realistic advice he could distill after 83 years of living. What is perhaps most striking and refreshing about his speech is the simplicity of the values and practices that he found indispensable to a successful life.
Here are a few highlights:
Must-Do #1: Be a Lifetime Learning Machine
There is a tendency to treat learning as a chore that can be finished and succeeded by some more enjoyable aspect of life. But as Munger put it, learning is “not just something you do to advance in life,” but rather a “moral duty” that requires a lifelong commitment to continue deepening one’s wisdom. According to Munger, the most successful people are not necessarily the smartest or the most diligent by nature, but those who “go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up.” Essentially, Munger found that learning yields its greatest results when viewed as a perpetual practice rather than as a means to an end.
Must-Do #2: Do What It Takes
Great potential without great effort behind it is like a rocket ship without fuel. Munger told his USC audience that you simply must have “a lot of assiduity” (pronounced ass-eh-doo-ih-tee). He added wryly, “I like that word because it means: sit down on your ass until you do it.” While this may not be novel advice, it does run counter to many of our popular cultural myths about success, such as the sudden stroke of luck, the big break, or the opportunity of a lifetime. These may be elements of some success stories, but Munger brings us back to earth with his reminder to diligently address the work at hand.
Must-Do #3: Be Interested
If you’re going to learn all your life, and if you’re going to subject your ass to countless hours of accomplishing what needs to be done, then it follows you must not be holding your breath all that time. Munger wisely proposed that “intense interest in a subject is indispensable if you’re going to excel in it.” Many of us probably find this true in a small way when we tackle the LSAT’s Reading Comprehension passages. Is it not easier to move through them quickly and accurately when they interest us? And we’re only talking about 35 minutes of required focus in that case. Imagine a career — a lifetime. Mungers words remind us that we cannot sustain the effort required to do outstanding work if we do not also sustain our curiosity and passion for that work.