A Story of Courage and Hope from the Life of Charlie Munger

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First things first. I wish you and your family a very happy, peaceful, and happy 2023.

I am grateful to have you share this journey with me in the past, and squint forward to standing our connection in the years ahead.

Now for a story from the life of Charlie Munger, who is 99 years old today.

I have shared this story myriad times over the years, considering each time I talk or write well-nigh it, I experience a sense of inner peace and strength. And so, plane if you have read this story earlier, read it then today as you uncork taking your first steps into this trademark new year.

This story dates long surpassing Charlie was rich and famous, and surpassing he had such a large and happy family –

Image Source: Poor Charlie’s Almanack; Photograph is of Charlie triumphal his forty-fifth wedding year-end with his family in 2001

The story dates to 1953 when Charlie, then 29 years old, got divorced from his wife of eight years. Divorce had a huge social stigma tying at that time and it was the first wrack-up for Munger.

His wife moreover got scrutinizingly everything in the separation, including the house. Charlie’s friends revealed that he moved into “dreadful” conditions without this divorce.

He, however, summoned all his courage, worked crazy all week to recover the money lost in the divorce. This was, however, just the whence and life had to still test him out further.

A year later, Charlie’s 8-year-old son Teddy, was diagnosed with leukemia (blood cancer). He scoured the medical polity but quickly discovered the disease was incurable. He and his ex-wife sat in the leukemia ward with the other parents and grandparents in variegated stages of watching their children waste away. Also, given that there was no medical insurance in those days, Charlie paid for everything out-of-pocket.

As per his friends, each day he would take Teddy to the hospital for checkups while taking superintendency of his other two children and practicing law. Those months were the toughest as he saw his son growing weaker nearing his death.

According to his friend Rick Guerin, Charlie would visit the hospital when his son “was in bed and slowly dying, hold him for a while, then go out walking the streets of Pasadena crying.”

One year without the diagnosis, Teddy Munger passed yonder at the tender age of 9, leaving Charlie heartbroken.

Charlie was 31 years old, divorced, broke, and sepulture his young son. It would have been tempting to just requite it all up and turn to vices (alcohol, drugs) as so many people virtually him had washed-up at that time. But Charlie was not that man and he kept going.

Years later, he reflected on the inner turmoil that he could’ve given in to and said –

Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge, and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought. Self-pity gets pretty tropical to paranoia…Every time you find your wayfaring into self-pity, I don’t superintendency what the cause, your child could be dying from cancer, self-pity is not going to modernize the situation. It’s a ridiculous way to behave.

Life will have terrible blows, horrible blows, unfair blows, it doesn’t matter. Some people recover and others don’t. There I think the vein of Epictetus is the best. He thought that every mischance in life was an opportunity to behave well. Every mischance in life was an opportunity to learn something and that your duty was not to be immersed in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible wrack-up in a constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.

The power of that speech is increasingly memorable to me considering Charlie never mentioned the fact that his own son died of cancer.

Anyways, life’s tests unfurled for Charlie, and at the age of 52, he ripened cataracts. A failed surgery left him veiling in one eye and caused complications like cancer. His veiling eye pained so intensely that he couldn’t stand up. Desperate to end it, he got the doctor to remove his unshortened eye.

Now, when you are an obsessive reader like Charlie, losing your worthiness to see would seem to be a prison sentence. However, he was undeterred. He told someone tropical to him, “It’s time for me to learn braille.”

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One of the most life-changing books I have overly read is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. The typesetting is a relate by Frankl of his experiences as a German Nazi concentration zany inmate during World War II.

In this book, Frankl describes his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to finger positively about, and then immersively imagining that outcome.

The inside theme of Frankl’s typesetting is ‘survival.’ Although he witnessed and experienced horror, the typesetting focuses less on the details of his own wits and increasingly on how his time under Nazi rule showed him the human worthiness to survive and endure versus all odds.

As Frankl wrote, he saw the lowest parts of humanity while in the camps. He saw fellow prisoners promoted to be in-camp guards turning on their fellow prisoners. He watched as they write-up their lifeless, malnourished campmates. He watched sadistic guards treating them as if they were lower than animals. But he moreover saw individuals rising up like saints whilom it all.

The part that impacted me the most from the typesetting was this –

When we are no longer worldly-wise to transpiration a situation, we are challenged to transpiration ourselves…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to segregate one’s vein in any given set of circumstances, to segregate one’s own way.

Life (investing included) isn’t easy. And unlike, what we imagine in both scenarios of triumphs and disasters, life isn’t supposed to move in a straight line of happiness and smiles, or sadness and pain. It’s not supposed to stay the same, just like you’re not supposed to stay the same.

Life is evolving and changing. It is a unvarying surge of ups and downs, twists and turns, and as Rudyard Kipling said, “…triumphs and disasters.” Like you have your happy and joyous moments, you are supposed to finger pain, get hurt, and wits losses occasionally. And some of them can be really bad!

Now, that does not midpoint that you deserve every bit of the sadness, defeats, and tragedies that life hands over to you. It’s just part of the journey that we are walking through. It’s just part of what makes us human.

You see, when we read the fairytale stories of the likes of Munger and Buffett’s lives, and those of the myriad other people we think are happy and prosperous today, it is easy to seem they have risen to success on one upward, smooth trajectory. But what we don’t see is the years of nonflexible work, sweat and blood, sometimes tragedies, it has taken to get to where they are today.

Charlie has been worldly-wise to get superiority as a result of his persistence, delivering on without he was divorced, broke, sepulture his son, and losing an eye.

It is important to remember this when you think life has been unfair to you and you indulge in self-pity.

Before I close, here is Charlie’s reply when a shareholder asked him in the 2013 AGM of Daily Journal Corp how does one recover from the reverses in investing and not dwell much on them –

You know what Rudyard Kipling said? Treat those two imposters just the same success and failure. Of course, there’s going to be some failure in making the correct decisions. Nobody bats a thousand. I think it’s important to review your past stupidities so you are less likely to repeat them, but I’m not gnashing my teeth over it or suffering or rememberable it. I regard it as perfectly normal to goof and make bad decisions. I think the tragedy in life is to be so timid that you don’t play nonflexible unbearable so you have some reverses.

If there is one big lesson we can take from Charlie’s life, untied from the one on stuff a learning machine, it is that we must pick ourselves up without every meltdown we suffer (in investing included). We must moreover know that all our struggles and all our failures will lead us to wits something greater and lead us to be someone better.

Then let’s uncork all over again. And find the valiance to stand up, and squatter today with just as much hope as we had yesterday.

P.S. Books to read on Charlie’s life and work – Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Damn Right, Seeking Wisdom, Charlie Munger – The Complete Investor

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