warren buffett’s ultimate measure of success

We all have our unique definition of success. For me, it’s about maximizing my impact and helping others, while attaining both a high quality of life and securing both personal and professional freedom. But when I got to know how Warren Buffett defines success, I started contemplating on it, and according to his measure, I think I still have a long way to go. 

In his speech at Georgia Tech, Buffett shared some soul-stirring wisdom about what success really is. He said, “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. I know many people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them. That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life.”

He went on to say, “The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. But the only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”

Isn’t this a fascinating piece of advice coming from one of the wealthiest people in this world? Quite contrary to what we would expect, right? So, let’s get this straight. According to him, “the ultimate test” of a life well-lived has nothing to do with money at all; his one single metric for success is: love

Now, take a minute to think about Buffett’s heart-touching words.

How many people really love you? We all have friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances in our lives. They are familiar to you, they may like you, they may be comfortable with you, they may enjoy spending time and having conversations with you. You may share the same genetics and a chunk of personal history including some delightful life experiences with them, but do they really love you? Do they really even know you actually, not superficially but who you are underneath?

Here’s something that I learned from one of Darren Hardy’s mentoring sessions. Think about the day of your funeral. Of course, all kinds of people would show up but a key factor would be how many of them would cry for you. And further thinking from Buffett’s above-mentioned “ultimate test” framework, even those people who would be crying for you, for what reason would they be crying?

Firstly, some would cry due to sadness, it’s an emotional occasion after all. People get choked up when they see something tragic on their screens and this is real life, so that’s a given. However, they won’t be crying for you. Next, some would cry for the people who are living and were close at you because they are in unimaginable pain. We are empathetic beings, so when we see someone hurting, we cry too. Again, they are crying for others, but not exactly you. And lastly, some would cry not for you but for themselves. With you gone, they have lost something in their life; the certainty and regularity that they had in their lives is no longer there. A void has been created in their lives that they would have to deal with from now on. That’s what would make them cry.

Now that we subtract all these people and not count them, what’s the final number that you have with regard to the “ultimate test” question?

It’s one of those difficult truths that gives us a reality check and really makes us think about how we are spending our lives, what goals we are pursuing, how we are showing up in our interactions with others, and what scoreboard we are using to evaluate our success. 

The “ultimate test” question is unpleasant and uncomfortable, but it can help us shift our perspective towards life and success.

A great example of this is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and Buffett’s friend. In a blog post, Gates said that Buffett helped him broaden the way he thought about his accomplishments. He mentioned that his assessment now is very different than it was in his 20s, when he was first launching Microsoft.

Gates wrote, “Back then, an end-of-year assessment would amount to just one question: Is Microsoft software making the personal-computing dream come true?” Today, though he still assesses the quality of his work, he shared, Buffett and Melinda, his wife, have inspired him to ask other questions about his life such as, “Did I devote enough time to my family?” “Did I learn enough new things?” and “Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones?” 

For years, Gates has lived his life based on Buffett’s definition of success, and he  affirms, “Measuring success Buffett’s way is about as good a metric as you will find.”

It’s a tough question, I understand, but something that we all must ponder upon. So, today take a pause and ask yourself: How many of the people you want to have love you really, deeply and intimately do love you?