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  • Writer's pictureJTF

5/25 Rule for Life

There is a famous legend that tells the story of Warren Buffet advising the pilot of his private aircraft about the secret to succeed and have a good life. The story goes that on an early morning while waiting to board the plane, the pilot asked Buffet for his advice/secret for success. Warren Buffet told the pilot that what he needed to do was to write down a list of 25 things he would like to accomplish before he died, then rank those in order of importance. After the list was complete, he told the pilot to separate the top 5 things at the top and put away the other 20. Never even look at them again until he had accomplished the first 5.

While the advice may have been unorthodox, it has become a basic footprint for people looking to articulate what their lives' purpose or priorities are. The fact the information came from Warren Buffet gives validity to the proposal even before dissecting it for its value. Warren Buffet is an interesting character in the American tapestry. He is a self-made billionaire that, on the surface, appears to be the classic cinderella story that is pandered as propaganda in the US capitalist system to keep the masses hungry and hard at work. A young all American guy from Omaha who achieves success through hard work and organized devotion to the capitalist system. Whose record of success certifies him as a hero and a role model according to society's values: prosperity and wealth, he is, after all, a successful billionaire. But the shallow public description of the person does not begin to describe the actual depth of character for Warren Buffet, and why he is such a fascinating and influential person in American history. The fact he is a billionaire is almost pure coincidence once we delve into the fascinating complexity of his character. His fortune is inconsequential to him or the basis for his decisions. He pledged his wealth to be disbursed after his death to different organizations that foster the progress of humanity as a collective and does vast amounts of philanthropical and philosophical work today.

Warren has always been an advocate of austere and minimalistic living. He has lived in the same house he bought several decades ago, and to this day refuses to partake in some of the luxuries and trappings that consume the majority of people in his wealth bracket. He does, however, own a private jet – a Bombardier Challenger 600- which is an interesting problem, one he is keenly aware. The reason for ownership is simple: comfort and efficiency, not quantifiable efficiency, as Buffet, readily admits by naming the aircraft 'the indefensible.' Even when the plane wouldn't muster a financial efficiency audit, the improvement in the quality of life and comfort for Buffet likely provides monetary returns by improving his decision making. Warren's decisions affect the lives of thousands, if not millions of people.

Warren Buffet enjoys 'sharing the wealth,' and his most crucial contribution perhaps come in the form of the interviews and commentary he provides on occasion with little to no value or consequence to him. The generosity he shared with his pilot is likely a snapshot of his nature as a leader and entrepreneur. While he believes in, or at least understand the capitalist system, he is a staunch advocate for social responsibility, a lesson he likely learned from his late wife. Now that the presence of character from the source is apparent. It is time to examine the actual piece of advice. There are genius and standard successful practices within the assignment. The first, how to organize and process information; by making a list it is possible to access the data in an orderly and visually appealing manner.

Second, the list requires a conscious and subconscious level to assess one's values. What do we value most? By adding the death caveat, it gives paramount importance to the selection, as well as a time frame -the most important one- for the list maker. Thus, the person doing the activity must view things conceptually and on a longer horizon, all the essential qualities of successful individuals. While the list can be simplified to a short stop to continue chasing impulses, the part about 'before you die' shouldn't be taken off or ignored. Warren -as most forward thinkers do- was asking for life's purpose and legacy, not a quick to-do list to buy a convertible or get the thrill that's been on the pilot's mind recently.

Finally, the list requires to edit and be selective; what gets left out is just as important as what goes into the list. Warren Buffet is likely to have a deep and layered understanding of the concept of 'cost of opportunity.' But even if we are unable to see that concept in an elegant or articulated manner, the premise is simple: you cannot have it all, so choose what matters most. If the list is made correctly, it can yield an interesting introspective exercise and allow the individual to organize values and goals in a single mindset. Why we do what we do is just as important as what we do. The things on the list should be actionable but also value-driven; a thoughtful final top 5 is likely to include life extended enterprises from which some of the lower-ranked items become manifestations. If time and attention are the most valuable and finite resources in our lives, what will be your top 5? The answer may both guide and surprise you.


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