Charlie Munger AMA: How does Charlie Munger recommend dealing with adversity?


Charlie Munger has recommended many books, one of which is Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In that book Frankl writes: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Charlie Munger believes that adversity can cause some people to transform themselves into a victim: “Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it’s actually you who are ruining your life. It’s such a simple idea. Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to make go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in anyway, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can – the so-called “iron prescription” – I think that really works.” In another context he said: “Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought, self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse, you do not want to drift into self-pity.”

Joshua Kennon writes about Munger:

“In 1953, Charlie was 29 years old when he and his wife divorced. He had been married since he was 21. Charlie lost everything in the divorce, his wife keeping the family home in South Pasadena. Munger moved into “dreadful” conditions at the University Club and drove a terrible yellow Pontiac… Shortly after the divorce, Charlie learned that his son, Teddy, had leukemia. In those days, there was no health insurance, you just paid everything out of pocket and the death rate was near 100% since there was nothing doctors could do. Rick Guerin, Charlie’s friend, said Munger would go into the hospital, hold his young son, and then walk the streets of Pasadena crying. One year after the diagnosis, in 1955, Teddy Munger died. Charlie was 31 years old, divorced, broke, and burying his 9 year old son. Later in life, he faced a horrific operation that left him blind in one eye …”

“Recently, someone told me a story about Charlie Munger worth mentioning here. Charlie was developing a condition in his remaining eye that was causing it to fill up with blood. He would eventually go blind in his one remaining eye and lose his eyesight completely. Blindness. When you are an obsessive reader like Charlie, losing your ability to see would seem to be a prison sentence. However, Charlie was undeterred. He told someone close to him, “It’s time for me to learn braille.” He has been taking braille lessons since. Most recently the worrisome eye condition has receded but the story is a good example of Charlie’s philosophy on life. No self-pity. No emotional wallowing. Staying rational. It is hard enough to learn new things, but … Charlie remains an inspiration of a life well lived.”

This passage is from Brian Keng:

“Charlie Munger’s two things NEVER to do: 1) NEVER feel sorry for yourself. 2) NEVER have envy. The first point can be restated as never have a victim mentality. This is important to NEVER do because once you’re a victim, you no longer have control and that’s scary and depressing. More importantly, incredibly counter-productive. I’ve read that there was a holocaust prisoner who was about to be sent to the gas chamber but was in high spirits. When asked how he could be so joyful, he replied that his mood was the one thing he had control of. If he isn’t a victim, then NO ONE is a victim.”

More from Munger on adversity:

“Assume life will be really tough, and then ask if you can handle it. If the answer is yes, you’ve won.”

“Life will have terrible blows in it, horrible blows, unfair blows. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He said that every missed chance in life was an opportunity to behave well, every missed chance in life was an opportunity to learn something, and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion. That is a very good idea. You may remember the epitaph which Epictetus left for himself: “Here lies Epictetus, a slave maimed in body, the ultimate in poverty, and the favored of the gods.”

“I have a friend who carried a big stack of linen cards about this thick, and when somebody would make a comment that reflected self-pity, he would take out one of the cards, take the top one off the stack and hand it to the person, and the card said, ‘your story has touched my heart, never have I heard of anyone with as many misfortunes as you.’ Well you can say that’s waggery, but I suggest that every time you find you’re drifting into self-pity, I don’t care what the cause, your child could be dying of cancer, self-pity is not going to improve the situation, just give yourself one of those cards. It’s a ridiculous way to behave, and when you avoid it you get a great advantage over everybody else, almost everybody else, because self-pity is a standard condition and yet you can train yourself out of it.”

“Like Nietzsche once said: ‘The man had a lame leg and he’s proud of it.’ If you have a defect you try to increase, you’re on your way to the shallows. Envy, huge self-pity, extreme ideology, intense loyalty to a particular identity – you’ve just taken your brain and started to pound on it with a hammer. You’ll find that Warren is very objective.”

“I can’t imagine any experience in life worse than losing a child inch by inch.”

Here is one more quote attributed to Munger for which I can’t find the original source. It sounds like him, but I am not sure he said it:

“I think I developed courage when I learned I could deal with hardship. You need to get your feet wet and get some failure under your belt.”


Man’s Search for Meaning:

4 thoughts on “Charlie Munger AMA: How does Charlie Munger recommend dealing with adversity?

  1. thank you for that post, that really helped me
    I would be glad to hear more stories about living life well, about values of life that Charlie and Warren appreciate.
    Best regards from Poland

  2. Pingback: Interesting read : What I Learned This Week, 29th Nov 2015 | Valuenomics

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