How many people actually utter investment advice on their deathbed and when they do what do they say? Furthermore, what the heck does this have to do with Warren Buffet or yourself?
To answer these questions let's consider that Mrs. Bronnie Ware, a palliative care worker for many years, actually had the wisdom to pay attention to the themes she came across when dealing with those close to death - particularly their regrets.
This year she published this information on her website (http://www.inspirationandchai.com/Regrets-of-the-Dying.html) but most people failed to see the connections between the regrets and investment decision making.
The number one regret expressed by those close to death is "I wish I had courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me". This top deathbed regret is followed by a close second, "I wish I didn't work so hard".
In order to understand how these regrets relate to investing consider that the world's greatest investor, Warren Buffett, is of the opinion that the best investment advice is to first and foremost invest in yourself. During a 2008 Q & A annual meeting Buffett professed:
Think about how little time, analysis, or press of any kind Buffet's most important investment advice gets compared to what we come across regarding his “Buffett-isms”, latest purchases, stock price performance, derivitive plays, special investments in GE, Goldman Sachs or Bank of America, whether he is all washed up etc., etc., etc.
Now, think about how many people might not suffer from the regret of living up to someone else’s expectations at the cost of their own true wishes if they had stopped and taken the time each year to ponder Buffett's comments regarding the best investment to make and then define and act upon their own dreams… to muster the courage to live a life true to themselves.
And talk about responsible risk management.
If ever there was a risk worth protecting yourself against don’t you think it would be taking the steps to insure you don’t wind up living a life that is not in line with your true self – particularly if the risk is as high as it is as measured by Mrs. Ware’s work? When discussing the most important investment decisions a person can make is it any coincidence that Buffet also mentions “being the person you want to be” as well as the belief that “potential exceeds realization for many people”?
I think not. I would argue that Buffet is definitely aware that one of the most commonly overlooked risks we may fall victim to is the very real risk of NOT being the person who we truly want to be.
As to how Buffet’s thinking relates to the second most common deathbed regret of "wishing I had not worked so hard", I believe Buffett is also quite aware of this danger when he speaks about the importance of insuring that our potential translates to our reality.
As our potentials and our reality become more and more aligned, our work efforts naturally align to our unique dreams and aspirations. As this happens the feelings of “being on a treadmill”, spending to much time "consumed with work”, being “overworked” dissapate because these are all telltale symptoms of leading a life that is lopsided and out of balance with our true selves.
In such an lopsided environment the truth is that we are being extremely inefficient, working way too hard, neglecting our health, our well being, and often neglecting those closest to us such as our friends and family. Such an existence is unsustainable, and always leads to breakdown, unnecessary and extensive costs, and of course lost opportunity.
So in the coming year of 2012, before delving too much into our new budgeting strategy, cost controls, revenue generation, portfolio analysis and rebalancing, and profits, let’s put first things first for a change and focus on avoiding the greatest risks as highlighted by those above.
Be the person you want to be, invest in your true self, and prevent the risks of living a life you look back on with regrets.
Disclosure: I am long BRK.B.