Journal: Gratitude, Admiration, and Your Life in 10,000 Days🦃
"Whatever you do, enjoy your life and the people who share it with you, and leave something good of yourself for the generations to follow." — Ed Thorp
A week ago, I came across this 1980s video of Buffett and Mrs. ‘B’ Blumkin of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. Buffett admired her a great deal. Why? Blumkin was self-made, hard-working, resourceful, smart, relentlessly focused on the customer, and loved her work.
In my family we had our own ‘Mrs. B.’, my grandmother Liselotte. After World War 2, she set up a shop for wool and knitwear. My grandfather, a former barber and mechanic, eventually joined her to sell and repair knitting machines. Like Mrs. B, Oma was thrifty, disciplined, and shrewd. She was tough and tended the store until she was 90 years old. There’s no doubt in my mind that meaningful work helps keep us young.
Mrs. B. sold the Furniture Mart for some $55 million to Berkshire in a handshake transaction. My grandmother’s store provided her family with a comfortable middle class life. But what we ultimately admire in people is not so much the degree of achievement, but how it was achieved. We care about the values these people embodied through the ups and downs of life. What remains is how they affected others, what remains is what was shared.
As an extreme counterexample, only a fool would admire billionaires who make their wealth by cheating and stealing and hoard it all. While on some level we may envy their wealth, we’d never want to switch places, for deep down we understand that their actions came at a price not worth paying.
Buffett greatly admired Mrs. B’s abilities as a retailer. However, I believe he was most inspired by her attitude and the values she embodied.
“We did not get an audit. We did not look at the property records. I just said, ‘Mrs. B. do you owe any money’ and she says ‘no’ and that was it.”
“I felt like I had the Bank of England on the other side.”
Which is not to say that Mrs. B. or Oma were flawless. The Furniture Mart was “oxygen” for Mrs. B. and “the customer was God”, as her daughter shared with a laugh. The customer came first, “and we came next.” If you can’t feel a hint of pain between these lines, you didn’t grow up with a workaholic parent. Still, Mrs. B., a poor immigrant, did the best she could given the circumstances. And she did it very well.
Your life in 10,000 days
I’m not arguing we should all strive to be like Mrs. B. Rather, we should find a role at each stage of our lives that allows us to contribute and stay engaged. Chris Davis recently explained how, as we get older, we find ourselves leaving center stage. The world’s attention shifts to the next generation and this leads to what Davis called ‘old man disease’. It is a feeling that “the world is going to hell” born out of frustration and the fear of irrelevance (and, ultimately, death).
The cure? First: stay open and engaged.
When I look at all of these older people that I admire, they’re interested, they’re optimistic, and they’re constantly meeting new people and pursuing relationships. There’s not a lot of time for self-pity.
Second, map out your life and find your stage. Davis divided life into three segments of roughly 10,000 days or ~28 years (apparently an ancient astrological concept).
The first 10,000 days are a “time of exploration,” a time of “going wide, experimenting, trying new things, new places, new professions, new people, new towns.” You study and find your profession, partner, and friends.
In the second phase, you ‘go deep’ as you master your domain, provide for and raise a family, and deepen relationships.
“It’s about going deep, the depth of relationships, marriage, through family, through your vocation, your profession, your colleagues. You sort of have 10,000 days to execute, to accomplish and build what in many ways will be the monuments of your life, your family, your kids, your profession.”
Rather than bemoan the loss of youth, we can shift our mindset and appreciate “the privilege of being able to go deep, to concentrate.”
In the third phase, we ‘regain’ freedom to go wide again as “your kids are grown and beginning to leave, what you’ve achieved professionally is fairly settled.” The weight of striving for achievement is being lifted and Davis called this “one of the reasons people end up growing happier as they get to their 50s, 60s, 70s.” This is also a time to give back and share with the next generation.
Gratitude and Happy Thanksgiving!
It’s Thanksgiving, a day to reflect on (and feel and express) gratitude, one of the few true superpowers. An easy first step is to contemplate things and states: health, food, shelter, safety. But deep gratitude mostly centers around people. It arises downstream from action and values.
We feel gratitude for those whose lives affected us. Often, these are people who mastered the transition to the third stage of life and shared as teachers, mentors, patrons, and keepers of wisdom, culture, and traditions.
It can be challenging to make this transition in a culture obsessed with youth, innovation, beauty, and the latest trends. I think that’s one reason for the malaise in our society. The refusal to transition is how we ended up with a gerontocracy, ruled by people who cling to power instead of assuming their roles as wise elders (yes, I can see the irony of Mrs. B. getting into a fight with her family over succession at the Furniture Mart, which ended in Buffett buying her out a second time and joking that it had been a mistake to not have her sign a noncompete).
It is the people who share who have the greatest impact. And, circling back to Mrs. B. and Oma, there is no greater gift to share than passing on the torch life. While Oma cared deeply about her Geschäft, her business served her love for her family. What value she created in business, she relished to share with her children and grandchildren.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the long lineage of women who said yes to life, who nourished and raised the next generation, and who, often against all odds, made all of our lives possible.
And remember: when the world feels like a dark place, it is up to every one of us to make space for the light, to embody the values we admire, and to affect others positively through our actions.
Feeling grateful for you all today — Happy Thanksgiving!