Warren Buffett says this is 'the ultimate test of how you have lived your life'—and Bill Gates agrees
In 2017, when Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates shared the stage for a talk at Columbia University, one student asked: "Are there any major life lessons that you two have learned about relationships through your personal experiences?"
"Well, it's a very important question. You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with," Buffett answered. "So it's important to associate with people that are better than yourself."
Buffett, who just turned 89 on Saturday, August 30th, 2019, has given similar advice in the past.
"Basically, 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 said in 2001 during a speech at the University of Georgia.
"I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them," Buffett continued. "If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is — your life is a disaster. That's the ultimate test of how you have lived your life."
Out of all the people who love you back, the most important person by far, according to Buffett, is your spouse. "I can't overemphasize how important that is," he said in his 2017 conversation with Gates.
In the 2017 HBO documentary "Becoming Warren Buffett," the billionaire said that he owes some of his greatest qualities to his first wife Susan. "I just got very, very, very lucky. I was a lopsided person. And it took a while, but she just stood there with a little watering can and nourished me along and changed me," he recalled.
In many ways, Susan did help Buffett become the man that he is today: She got him interested in civil rights, feminism, encouraged him to become more of a public figure and to donate more of his money during his lifetime.
While they never got divorced, Susan moved away from Omaha and the two remained very close, according to the documentary. She also helped orchestrate Buffett's relationship with Astrid Menks, whom he married after she died. (Buffett and Astrid tied the knot on August 30, 2006, the same day he turned 76 — and have since been together for 13 years.)
In their conversation at Columbia University, Gates, who has been a longtime friend of Buffett's, said that "some friends do bring out the best in you, so it's good to invest in those friendships. It's really through Melinda and seeing other people that I realized, okay, it's really worth the investment to have those people, as you're always there to help them and vice versa."
Gates also commented on his marriage with Melinda last year, in a Facebook Live talk: There's a certain type of intensity when you're raising a family together, said, "but we're very lucky because we mostly see things the same way. Our goals are very much the same."
In many ways, Buffett's words of wisdom sounds a lot like the warnings we received from our parents when we were younger about not hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Buffett's own experience with friendships and love is proof that the people we let into our lives — the people who truly love and care about us — are the ones who push us to live successful, happy and meaningful lives.
Researchers have even found that people who have a strong support system in place (a.k.a. your friends and life partners) are less likely to suffer from depression and social isolation, which has in turn been associated with poorer health outcomes.
That's more than enough reason to take Buffett's advice into consideration by reflecting on the strength of your personal relationships by asking yourself questions like: Do the people who care about me really love me back? Do they make me a better person?
As Gates once said, "That's about as good a metric as you will find."
Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal.
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