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Questioning Buffett's "Do What you Love" Advice

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By kelbon
November 16, 2009

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Unlike probably most others, I experienced Buffett & Gates at Columbia University (courtesy of CNBC) as slightly creepy in a couple of respects: on the subjects of doing what you love, and ethics. Here's why:

There's an understandable misconception amongst the very successful that if you do what you love, are good at, and passionate about, that just with a little luck the odds are in your favor. Unfortunately, this isn't true, especially in the arts. For every talented and successful poet, painter, dancer, actor, etc. there's hundreds of the talented and committed that didn't make it and because of their passion and commitment are now impoverished or struggling financially. Many former dancers are suffering physically too, having pushed their bodies to the limit.

I wish Buffett would stop this broken record of "do what you love." Those who feel compelled to will anyway, as they always have. If your talent and passion is making money then being relatively successful at that is any easy scorecard to mark. Being successful in other areas is usually more complex with a push and pull between inner and outer scorecards.

On the question of ethical behavior, I wish they'd both get off their "holier than thou" soapboxes. It was ironic that Buffett (if I'm remembering correctly) said it was preferable to learn ethical and moral behavior at home. After having read The Snowball it seems what Buffett learned at home, from his mother, was how to treat family members in callous and cruel ways. This advice from a man, [who] as a teenager stole his sister's bike and sold it to make a quick buck...well that could possibly be put down to youthful exuberance. But, for most of his adult life he has treated members of his family in ways that no one should be encouraged to emulate.

I have no idea about Bill Gate's private behavior, but "his" company Microsoft, has, and continues to, operate in questionable and unethical ways; as if business was a war zone where the last man standing not only gets his life, but the moral victory too.

Although Buffett and Gates should rightly be applauded, in a capitalist society, for their exceptional achievements and now their expansive and generous charitable activities, there's just a little of the parental smugness of "do what I say, not what I do" and "the end justifies the means" in their lives and their utterances.

No doubt this perspective will be unpopular here...