William Green Best-Selling Author
Over the last quarter of a century, William Green has interviewed many of the world’s best investors, exploring in depth the question of what qualities and insights enable them to achieve enduring success.
He’s written extensively about investing for many publications and has been interviewed about the greatest investors for magazines, newspapers, podcasts, radio, and television.
He has also given many talks about the lessons we can learn from the most successful investors, not only about how to invest but about how to improve our thinking. He’s written for many of the world’s leading publications. He’s reported from practically everywhere in the world and has interviewed presidents and prime ministers, inventors, criminals, prize-winning authors, the CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies, and countless billionaires.
He’s collaborated on several books as a ghostwriter, co-author, or editor. One of them became a #1 New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller in 2017. He worked closely with a renowned hedge fund manager and personal close friend of mine who I’ve even interviewed on I’M THAT – Guy Spier – helping him to write his much-praised 2014 memoir, The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment.
Born and raised in London, he was educated at Eton College, studied English literature at Oxford University, and received a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York with his wife, Lauren, and their children, Henry and Madeleine.
What Guy Spier told me (04:18)
A beautiful work in progress. (05:32)
I wrote the book partly because I was trying to figure out how to live (07:15)
Going back to where I came from and what I used to do (18:01)
Please show me what I’m supposed to do with my life. (32:33)
I’m definitely prone to anxiety and worry (42:19)
The truth actually turns out to be incredibly simple (50:10)
There’s a kind of second adolescence that comes in middle age. (1: 02)
There’s something about the great investors – they’re these ruthless pragmatists that just care about what works. (1: 02)
Edited Transcription with typos – sorry:
Eitan Chitayat 2:06
So, it doesn’t usually happen that you, you read a book, you finish the book, and you talk to the author.
William Green 2:20
And I feel kind of guilty because I was suddenly, I wanted you to read the book. I was kind of like, I’ve done a lot of podcasts recently. And sometimes you do a podcast and someone will say, Oh, yeah, this sounds great. I should definitely read the book afterwards. You know, fuck, you know, they really, you’re, you’re gonna read it off after like, No, that makes no sense. So I was sort of like to is a repressed Englishman, there was a part of me that was like, I can’t say to this guy read the fucking book. But there’s a part of you that’s like, no, you’ve got like, yeah, because I’m a longtime journalist. I got to read this.
Eitan Chitayat 2:54
I’ve read the fucking book.
William Green 2:57
So you know, I was sort at war with myself. Oh, well, it just to say like, you can’t have a good interview with someone who spent years writing they’re writing something unless you actually read the thing. Or it’s sort of like, I watched your both your TEDx talk and your video this morning. Because up, and then I was like, Oh, that’s interesting. Okay. Like, like, like, it gives me a sense of like, who you are and where you come from.
And it just, it just, you know, we could have had a great conversation regardless, but it just deepens your sense. And, and in a weird way, it’s like, it gives you I mean, I guess sometimes you would listen to stuff and you’d be like, God, this person’s awful. And you’d be like, No, I really don’t you know, but I think it, it deepens your sense of appreciation. It’s a Hebrew letter. Right? Roma mood, right? Like, you know, it gives you a sense for the person, like, oh, wow, that’s really cool. What he did that video?
Eitan Chitayat 3:49
Well, I think I think that, um, I think it’s important to look, you’re a journalist. I mean, you know, it’s important to do your research and, and yes, I read your fucking book. And, and we’re already talking. So I mean, let’s not waste any time – I want to dive in, and I’m going to put you on the spot. If you’ve heard any of my podcasts, then you know that the first question that I always ask you…
William Green 4:11
Are you recording already? Am I being excessively honest? Already?
Eitan Chitayat 4:15
William Green 4:18
you can use whatever you want. I once was doing the Guy Spier about about writing my book. And I said, dumb. I’m saying I’m bit worried, like, what if I write things that you know, like, like, I’m going to write things that you’re going to kind of not like maybe like, like, what if I like because, because for example, I say, you know that he has ADHD and that he has this beautiful mind, but that he’s figured out these ways to create this kind of compound. And he said to me, if there’s something embarrassing that you want to say about me, you should definitely say it. And I thought that was kind of wonderful. It was it was sort of like we’re it’s kind of a measure of the man right that if something’s so so so in the same way if I’ve just said something terribly embarrassing thing that I shouldn’t have said that my mother will, will listen and be like, God, that’s appalling. I can’t believe you said that. That’s probably good for my soul. But to have it out there,
Eitan Chitayat 5:10
I don’t think that you said anything embarrassing. You said that people should do their research. And they should. And I, and I have to tell you, that I really enjoyed your book. But before we get into that, I’m going to hit you with a question that I always ask with at the beginning, which is, if you can complete the sentence for me, William Green, I’m that….?
William Green 5:31
Yeah, I remember you asking Guy that question. And so, so I thought about this morning, and I kind of wrestled wrestle with it. Not for a very long time for about two minutes. Because I didn’t want it to be a fake answer. And the thing I decided to say is I, I’m that work in progress. And if I were a little more honest about it, I would probably say I’m a beautiful work in progress. But that creates a, that’s a very uncomfortable thing for me to say, because there’s a, what I’m trying to say, in a sense is, I’m sort of glorious mess of a beautiful work in progress. Right. So there’s a sense in which I’m working on myself constantly. And I look at myself, now, I can’t believe you still behave that way. Or you still do that or all of that. But I’m very consciously, always in self-improvement mode. So there is an element of self-loathing to it, where I look at myself and like our schmuck. But there’s also there is also this sense of knowing that I’m improving. And I think sometimes when you look back, after many years, you’re like, actually, I am better in all of these different ways. And that’s not to be self-congratulatory, it’s, it’s I think it’s partly that you want to, you want to give yourself credit, to encourage yourself to keep going in, in improving yourself. So that’s my best attempt, a beautiful mess of a glorious work in progress.
Eitan Chitayat 7:03
So when you say, beautiful mess, continuous work in progress, so you talk about in all facets of your life, professionally, you with you, you with your wife, socially.
William Green 7:15
I think one of the reasons why I wrote this book, richer, wiser, happier. That sort of, was the thing that I spent much of the last five years on, was because I’m kind of groping through the fog and groping in the dark, trying to figure out how do you live? How do you operate in life. And so I just had this excuse to interview lots of famous investors or incredibly smart investors about what they figured out. But I enjoy sharing those ideas with other people, which, which is great and gives you an altruistic reason to do it. But I’m doing it, because I’m kind of lost in groping a lot of the time myself. And so I’m looking, I’m looking for ideas and habits and ways of being that work in life.
And so yeah, I’m thinking about this the whole time. I, I am, you know, like, like this morning, it was storming here in New York. And there’s torrential rain, and we’d had a flood a few weeks ago, and I am incredibly impractical. And I’ve been mopping up the basement, I took my back and I put some, some wood outside and I hear that my wife is much more practical, is like basically outside, like lifting up the wood and trying to take it back in and out of the rain. And I’m like, I don’t really want to go help. And so I was doing something else. And so I’m sort of delaying and then I kind of go down and then, she’s crying, she’s got her finger on a nail in the wood. And it’s like, and I can just see like my behavior is to put it politely and euphemistically suboptimal. So here I am, like, you know, I write a lot about the importance of kindness and compassion working on this stuff. And it’s an I could just see my own behaviors pretty crap half the time. And so I think I’m slightly I’m flashed, even as I’m saying this, there’s a sort of, there’s a gap between what I want to be and what I actually am, or between the words that I utter that sound kind of high minded and the reality of my actual behavior and that’s just a small example from this morning, right?
Eitan Chitayat 9:29
I want to study something on a very personal level. I really didn’t want to read your book. Hmm. Like I was kind of dreading it. Because if you don’t know me, but investment money, richer, wiser happier, like, fuck off. I really didn’t. I didn’t want to read it. That’s a great plug for your book, richer, wiser, happier by William Green.
Eitan Chitayat 10:01
I didn’t want to read it. I was dreading it. And I really was. And I have to tell you, and I’m not. I’m not just saying this to blow sunshine up your ass, but I read the whole damn thing. And I know that you told me you know, let’s be honest, you know, if you have to read some chapters we read 12345 We didn’t read the epilogue, you’ll get a good sense a ton. You know, I love it when you’re on those talk shows. And, and Jimmy Fallon goes, Oh, hey, you know, in your book, I just read the whole thing. It’s amazing. Fuck off. That didn’t mean shit. Three pages. Yeah, you didn’t even read three pages, some, you know, took some notes and bullets. I read the whole thing. And I read it. And I absolutely loved it. Yeah, and, and, and the reason that I loved it so much. Well, these is a few reasons. One, I want to tell you where were you three years ago in my life when I was having my midlife crisis for an extended few years, where I could have used a lot of this. So thank you
William Green 11:01
very much. I was having my own midlife crisis.
Eitan Chitayat 11:05
And that’s one of the questions I wanted to ask you. Because this reeks of, of, of soul searching. And, and I love the quote on the cover, and I’m just going to read it that you chose our wolf Donnelly, who is an author of a book that I’d never heard of the art of thinking clearly, but he wrote breathtakingly, this book not only teaches you how to invest, it teaches you how to think and, you know, as a writer, you know, as you sift through many 1000s of things that you can put on the cover of the book, then sure you want a good quote by someone reputable. But it’s really about how to think it’s how to have a better life. And I highly recommend that anyone listening just right now just stops and goes to whatever, whatever platform you’re on to buy books and just pick up a copy and read it because it’s a beautiful book about life tools from some people who could really, we could really use in terms of giving us some, some wisdom. Why don’t you tell me why you wrote this book? Like the real reason why you wrote this book? Yeah,
William Green 12:21
I, first of all, thank you, that means a lot coming from you, particularly because it comes to me with someone who’s not interested naturally in this stuff. And I often think about this that if you know, my mother is kind of the first reader of everything I write, she lives in London and is in her 80s. And I, every chapter, she was the first person I gave the chapter before I even gave it to my editor. And my mother has no interest at all, in investing and I think regarded as a little bit tawdry, you know, the idea of all these people spending their lives making hundreds of millions of dollars or billions of dollars. And so the fact that it spoke to her countered for a great deal. So I doubt in a way was my challenge was how do you tell it as a story? So these characters are fascinating. And so the, the lessons that come from them apply to you in your life. So in a sense, in a sense, you and my mother are kind of my perfect audience, people who don’t give a damn about this stuff, regarded as slightly tawdry, probably totally uninteresting, don’t don’t inherently respect super-rich people, and yet come to an like, that’s kind of cool.
And that is actually interesting.
And that is kind of helpful that that’s sort of what I was trying to do. And I think, I think because I’m slightly embarrassed about the fact that I’ve written about business and investing for so many years. I wanted to, I wanted to show just how riveting it can be and how profoundly interesting it can be. And so every time I write anything about something financial, I’m trying to make it a rip-roaring story and the characters interesting. So that’s, that’s a kind of preamble but that’s the fact that it spoke to you is a is a good sign because I’m not writing for people who necessarily well, most of the audience people who want to get rich, but I’m, I’m not really writing for them, in some sense, what I in some ways, it’s a kind of stealth spiritual book where I’m trying to say to people, look, the real question is, how do you live? Yes. And, and yeah, so that’s, that’s the real goal. And it’s dressed up in this. There’s a wonderful capitalist who died decades ago, who said that there’s an inner and an outer of everything, and then there’s an inner of the inner of the union and it keeps it keeps going. And so in a sense, the outer of this book is yeah, how do you get rich but then the inner is how do you live what makes for a soulful, successful, truly abundant life? And that’s what really interests me. And so In a sense, this is my version of this wonderful book that I love, called Montagnier how to live a biography. And one question and 20 attempts at an answer, I think, and, and this is I’ve just taken a different microcosm, I’m looking at the world of money, finance, business, and saying, how do you live? How do you think how do you how do you build a successful and abundant life?
Eitan Chitayat 15:25
I want to I want to read one thing. And it comes out of a passage where you were talking about Irving Kahn, he had the freedom to work until you’re 109 years old, and this guy lived till 109, if you’d like to, as you’d written a couple of World Wars crash in 1929, the Great Depression, Soviet Union, up and down, rise and fall, everything I mean, pretty much. And he’d been married for 65 years. And as you’d written a busload of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And I’m going to just read an excerpt from the book, I’d love to hear you talk about it, because it’s Yeah, well, yeah. And this is what you wrote because you wanted to speak to him. And he was 109. You know, it’s very old. I typed out several questions for a few months before he died and gave them to Andrew, his grandson was son, who wrote down his grandfather’s answers over several days.
Above all, I wanted to know what had been the key to a meaningful and fulfilling life and not just an extraordinarily long one. It’s very hard to answer this question. So it can’t, everyone will have a different answer. But for me, family has been very important. And what gave him the most pride and pleasure when he looked back on his life. He said, having a family healthy children, seeing what we’ve achieved at the firm, these have all given me great pleasure. He said, I’ve also gotten pleasure from meeting people who are smarter than me, and who gave me important answers. There are too many mysteries in life. At some point, you have to just ask for directions. And then you might just think for a moment about those basic ingredients that helped to make for a richly rewarding life, family health, challenging and useful work, and learning. See, that, to me is what is throughout the book, the underlying message, and to me, it’s kind of like you’re saying the outer is investment. But the thing that really, and it’s brilliant from an investment perspective, and there’s lots of things that you can learn. But if you had to put it on a bookshelf, and I don’t know what bookshelf it is on at the bookstore, I don’t know if it would go into an investment for me, but a meaningful and fulfilling life. I mean, I think that’s to me, what I felt, if I go back to my original question, which you didn’t answer, why did you write the book you wrote about who you were speaking to? But that’s what really resonated with me who’s also looking for that? All the time.
William Green 18:01
Thank you. Yeah. I think when you look back, you probably found this with your I’m that video that when you look back, you have a clearer sense of why you did it. Yeah, that you look back and you’re like, oh, that’s, that’s why I did it. And so when I look back, I probably have a different perspective on why I why I did the book, then I realized that the time, but I yeah, I think I think I was kind of lost. And I was trying to figure out how to live myself. I’m trying to figure out you know, I’d have various things go wrong, that don’t, that don’t amount to a whole lot in the world. Because in the grand scheme of things, my life’s been thank God much better than most people’s lives and much better than I possibly deserve. What kinds of things? Well, I you know, I was a very successful journalist in my youth, I got off to a very high flying start. So I wrote for like the spectator when I you know, which this great English magazine when I was about 20, maybe 21, like really young. Then I wrote for The New Yorker when I was like 2223. And I got off to this kind of fast start.
And I ended up being the editor of the international editions that is Asian edition of Time Magazine, and then the European Middle East and African edition of time. And so I felt kind of like a big shot. And then when I was I guess, 40 I got laid off in the middle of the financial crisis. And I got laid off having worked probably 7080 hours a week for seven, eight years at something that I was really good at. And so then suddenly, you’re like, Wait, so is the world kind of meaningless? Is it just Doggy Dog? Is it just Darwinian, did I just lose a political battle? Or is it just, you know, I made the wrong bet by being in an industry that’s kind of collapsing. Because the journalism world was sort of terrible. And even though everyone tells you when you get laid off, it’s not personal. It’s intensely personal, right? It’s like a rejection of you When you see the people who survive, and you’re like, but I’m better than them. And so there’s this sense of unfairness and victimization, and, and then, and then it was complicated for me by the fact that I had, I was living in London at the time, which is incredibly expensive. And I had two young kids in private school there and a house that was paid for by Time Magazine along with my kids education. And suddenly you’re like, Oh, God, what am I going to do? What if I can’t take care of my family? What if? What if this profession that I thought I was great at just never recovers?
And then at the same time, there’s this, there’s a sense of shame, I think when things fall apart, and you’re kind of like, and for me, I think it was probably intensified by the fact that my family was there, right? My brother was there. And my mother was that. And so it’s sort of it feels like a very public failure. And what you realize, I think, in many occasions in life, is that nobody actually cares other than you, and your closest family anyway, you, you feel like you’re ashamed. But most people, most people don’t even notice. But but so you, so. So for me, this was sort of an existential crisis, where I suddenly had to think, okay, so is life meaningless? Did I just, did I just kind of fail? Did I just lose it? How do I deal with the fact that the world is so uncertain? And the fact that the future is so unknowable? How do I deal with my own failure? How do I deal with stress? How do I become more resilient? How do I become financially independent, and financially secure, so all of those questions in a way, but deeply at the heart of richer, wiser happier. So when I go off, and I interview someone, like, say, Bill Miller, who I write about, who was probably the greatest mutual fund manager of his generation, and was managing something like $77 billion, and had been in the market for 15 years running. What I’m fascinated by is the fact that then he kind of blew up during the financial crisis in 2008 2009, makes this tremendous mistake and ends up everyone leaves his funds…..
William Green 22:18
He’s an athlete, utterly brilliant guy. And his assets under management basically went from $77 billion to $800 million. And he’s kind of publicly humiliated, shame made to feel like a fool. And Miller is someone who I’ve been interviewing for, like 90 hours over the last 20 or so years. And so I had written a profile of him back in 2000, probably the 2001 for Fortune Magazine as sort of a nine-page magazine profile. And I and I interviewed him after the financial crisis. And I interviewed him for two and a half days, I think, for this book. And so I’ve seen him through all of this. And so when I went to interview someone like him, I’m literally talking about how do you deal with pain and suffering and embarrassment and, and how do you become more resilient? And so there’s something deeply self referential about that when I’m asking him those questions. And I think also, because I’m honest about my own mistakes and failings.
It brings out a tremendous honesty in the people I’m interviewing. And so he was incredibly candid, for example, about talking, talking about, he’s a philosopher. I mean, he’s, he’s got a very unusual background for a money manager, he, he worked in military intelligence, he started philosophy. And he’s always been inspired by things like Lichtenstein and William James, as a as a money manager. So he was drawing on stoic philosophy, to deal with his own failure during the financial crisis. So he was saying, Look, if you if you read Epictetus, or Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, you can see that what, what you really need to do is distinguish between what you can and can’t control and so he said, I can’t control what people say about me, I can’t control my reputation. I can control my behavior and my attitude and my intention and my mindset. And so I can do things like try to admit what I got wrong. Try to admit my mistakes Try to figure out well, so I was too concentrated. I didn’t diversify enough. He said, I didn’t realize I could be so catastrophically wrong. He had been right for so long, but he said some of it seeps in when everyone tells you again and again and again how brilliant you are. You start to believe it.
And so I’m when I’m reading things like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca From Epictetus and trying to explain what Milla got from them. And I’m drawing those lessons to help myself. But then I’m also thinking, this is unbelievably interesting and useful information. And it’s, it’s kind of the best of what’s been learned by mankind over 1000s of years, as digested by this brilliant guy, Bill Miller, who’s one of the greatest thinkers I’ve ever encountered. It’s got a really exquisite, thrilling mind. Let me let me share, and synthesize and distill these ideas. And so there’s something there is something altruistic about what I’m doing that I’m, I’m really, I’m really trying to help people who are reading the book and thinking, Oh, my God, my life just fell apart. What am I going to do? And I’m so to some extent, there’s an aspect of this sounds very self-congratulatory, and self-important. And I don’t mean it that way. But there, there are things in the book where I’m like, I could easily cut out this paragraph, or these two paragraphs, or maybe it feels self indulgent.
But it’s almost like, No, this could be a lifeline for someone, someone is going to read this paragraph. And there’s going to be an idea in there that could actually change their life that could help them during a really difficult time. Or just reorient their life. And so I’m trying to share the most valuable lessons that have been profoundly valuable for me. And I think the stakes just kept going up as I wrote the book, because I, I started to realize, because I’ve done a ridiculous amount of reporting, you know, I interviewed more than 40 people for the book, but often over days, I mean, there are people something like that guy, Bill Miller, I spent a couple of days with him in his office in Baltimore, in his home. And, you know, that’s on top of many days of interviews over the years. So I started to realize I’ve got something here that’s actually kind of priceless. It’s an incredible resource. And I better not waste it. Because I might actually never do anything this worthwhile again, in my life, what if this is my one shot, or writing a book that’s really valuable? And, and then COVID came along, and so you start to have an even greater sense of your mortality.
So it just thought, let me let me try to do one thing that’s really worthwhile, and share some ideas that are actually really profoundly helpful. And so there’s a ridiculously over ambitious quality to the, to the book, because I am I, I, yeah, I’m trying to help people get richer and become financially independent. But I am, I’m trying to figure out these much deeper questions of how do you how do you handle uncertainty? How do you live in a world where your profession can suddenly fall apart? Or where God forbid, a marriage can fall apart, or you can’t predict the future, and you have to make decisions about the future?
Eitan Chitayat 27:56
Well, I think I think that, um, you know, we all go through what we go through in our personal lives, whether it’s us within ourselves, marriage, you know, career challenges, devastation, in terms of finances, and I think what really came through is highlighting vulnerability. And I think that the thing that I like about what you vote and the way that you write, and the way that some of these people speak is something that I actually try and do I do with my wife a lot. It’s like, my, my wife is not as communicative as I am in terms of talking openly, and people are more open than others.
And I find that for some people, it’s very difficult to show vulnerability. But I think that the more vulnerability that you show, and share like you said before, then then then, then, then people open up to you. And in that dialogue between I’m showing vulnerability, someone else shows vulnerability, and then other people read about it. That’s the journey of figuring out that we’re all at the end of the day really, you know, people that that hurt, that people that are imperfect, whether you’re a multi, multi billionaire, or someone who doesn’t have anything, you know what still people and, and I forgive me that I forget, I’m not sure if it’s Miller, one gentleman who you know, was not what you’d expect from a very, very, very wealthy man. Anyway, very basic, very, very, very simple life. You know, the money really didn’t. You know, he bought books was that Miller?
William Green 29:58
Yeah, he didn’t, he didn’t care about fancy restaurant. That’s why he had no interest even in museums or art or travel. He just bought books. And he, and, and part of what I was saying it sounded kind of facetious before, when you read that subtitle for that section where it says, you know, the, what was it the about the, the ability to work till you’re the freedom to work till you’re 109. But that was what I’m saying is, it’s, it’s about living in alignment with your tastes and priorities and what matters to you. And I thought there was something really interesting about the fact that he had built this life. That was true to him. And so he was still commuting to work at something like 107.
Eitan Chitayat 30:52
How, how can I mean, I was thinking about that, like, okay, you know, what I do for a living? I have a branding agency. And yeah, it’s successful branding agency, and I’m very blessed to work with, really, with with with a great team. And, and for the most part, we have very good clients. But you know, sometimes you really just, I’m not happy doing what I’m doing on this particular project.
And, and the reality of being able to, to, you know, and I think, you know, you know, what I’m talking about, and I think most people were guys fear, who manages Yeah, you know, you know, sometimes like, Fuck this, you know, I’m not doing what I want to do. Yeah, how? And that’s how do you know that you’re doing what you love doing when there are so many points? In doing what you’re doing that you really, you’re not enjoying it? Or is it just okay, I hit a hump, you know? And that’s what I find that a lot of people that I speak to, as well struggle with that, like, Am I doing what I want to be doing? Or am I just putting food on the table. And that’s, that’s something that really, that that’s what I was thinking about, as I read your book, and especially with him, that he was able to do exactly what he loved. And you could say the same about, let’s say, a fisherman who, you know, he loves being a fisherman, and he’s poor, but he’s happy.
So this guy’s, you know, he’s making shit tons of money, and he’s an investor. But you know, it’s not about the money, it’s about him loving what he’s doing. How do you know, from base based on all your conversations with all these people have? I mean, is there a secret to knowing that what you’re doing is actually what you really want to be doing? And not just living in?
William Green 32:33
Yeah, it’s it’s a profound and important question. And I spend a lot of my time studying spirituality and philosophy and the like. And so I, which I think is a is a higher form, for form of inquiry than a lot of a lot of investment writing. So I mean, I would answer it from that perspective, where I remember just hearing the spiritual teaching that you’re supposed to be asking every day of your life. Please show me what I’m supposed to do with my life. It should be a daily inquiry, where you’re saying, Let me fulfill the purpose of my soul. And so it’s not a static thing. It’s a dynamic, ongoing, unfolding process where you’re asking all the time, please, let me Let me fulfill the purpose of my soul.
And that sounds like the sort of thing that 20 years ago I would have rolled my eyes have been appalled at myself to saying it because it sounds a little hokey and overly sincere and earnest. But I think just starting with that desire, starting with that sense that you were given particular talents, and particular opportunities, and a particular background, particular parents, particular circle of friends, particular physical environment, an ecosystem and saying, Okay, maybe it’s not all random, maybe, you know, maybe I should live as if there’s a reason for why I’ve been given these talents and these responsibilities and these abilities, how can I use them in a way that’s true to who I am. And that has a real impact on other people, a real benefit in the world. And I, to me, one of the most helpful things that I learned in interviewing this extraordinary guy called Nick sleep is a remarkable English investor, who, who quit the investment business at the ripe old age of 45.
Basically, to spend the second half of his life giving most of his fortune away in a in a way that creates enduring, good for society. He does this thing called destination analysis, which he applied to companies to businesses, so he would say what’s the desirable destination for this business? In 1015 20 years? And are they doing the inputs that are going to get them to that desirable destination? So are they, if it’s Amazon, for example, which made him an enormous fortune that he bought, when it was at $30 A share a long time ago, he was saying, Are they screwing their supplier? So are they treating their employees? Well? Are they driving more and more value to their customers? Are they giving them a better and better deal? You know, are they behaving in this long term way, that’s going to lead to this desirable destination. But you can apply the same thing to your own life. So you can say, so you go to the end, right? And you say, okay, so it’s my funeral. And my wife and kids are there. And hopefully, some friends and people from my community, stuff like that some neighbors, whoever it is, where they’re going to say about me, what will they think about me? If you were to look back, like, like Irving Kahn at the age of 109, on the last century or so, what would give you pride?
Would you think I wish I made more money, or I wish I had not let that guy screw me I should or really shoved him aside when he was being a difficult partner 60 years ago, are you going to think I really helped a bunch of people or I really, you know, or I really fulfilled my creative talents. And, and so I think this is very different for all of us. The answers are really, really personal. But I think those, those two ways of thinking that we’ve mentioned are really helpful, whether it’s asking everyday, please present myself when I make the best use of my talents and my environment. What’s the purpose of my life? What am I here to do? Why was I given these talents and these opportunities? And how am I going to make the most use out of them? That’s a, that’s a really, that’s a really useful approach, I think, a useful way of thinking.
And the second one is this destination analysis of saying, if I want to work back from the ending, I want to look back on my deathbed, or after my deathbed. And have you know, I think of this sometimes, because my son who’s 23 is named Henry, and he’s named after my late grandfather, Henry. And I don’t remember a huge amount about my grandfather. But what I remember I have these very vivid memories, for example of walking along a street in London, where I was growing up in this was in Hampstead near his, his apartment.
And he would, he would sort of beam everyone he saw on the street, and would sort of, you know, tip his hat, basically and say, hello, hello. And I remember saying, how do you know him, grandpa, and he and he said, I don’t. And I just remember my grandfather walking around, leaving this trail of goodwill wherever he went. And so in a sense, if you’re doing this kind of destination analysis or amazing thing, to have your descendants think you have to trail of goodwill, and they actually named their son after him, because he was such an honorable and decent and good human and kindly, bloke. And I remember, I remember years ago. I mean, my grandfather was an interesting character, he left school when he was 12, or 13, I think, because he was so poor, that he literally, I think it got to a point where he couldn’t even put newspaper in the bottom of his shoe anymore because there was no soul to hold the newspaper in. And so he left school, and he became an apprentice tailor-made 12 1314. And this is a guy who is an international class bridge player who could remember where every single card in the pack was. So he was intellectually brilliant. And spent his life as a as a tailor.
And he built up a business and he got bombed in World War Two, his factory got bombed. So he never became wealthy, or powerful, or, you know, he should have been a brain surgeon, right? He had great hands and a great mind. And instead, he was sewing, you know, secret pockets in a jacket for me when I was a little kid. But so in some ways, you could say it was sort of disappointing life and he was married to a woman who loved dearly and who also was incredibly clever, and may have been an Oxford or Cambridge professor and instead worked in their clothing store and got a degree in her 70s at the Open University in England, so in some ways, disappointing lives, and in some of these really extraordinary lives, right, like to look back and say that he that he behaved in that way I often think of, you know, when, when, when people say when someone dies, may his memory be a blessing. That’s a really good piece of destination analysis.
Right? You you want to. So I think these are really useful filters really useful ways to think of your own life. And so I, I do this quite a lot. So I think, I think I’m constantly asking myself, for example, if I’m trying to weigh up whether to do a particular project, I’m thinking, is this true to who I am? If I have limited time? Do I want to spend 234 years with this particular person writing about them?
Is this just gonna make me money, but not be something I’m proud of? How badly do I need the money? So there’s a beautiful line from from Ben plan that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, his partner often quote, which is an empty sack can’t stand straight. And so I think that’s part of the issue that I found is, there are times where it’s a coming out of financial crisis, where I’d lost my job and my stock market, or my stock portfolio had halved. And I felt like full of a sense of uncertainty. I didn’t really have the luxury to think so much about these issues of is this aligned with who I am, this is, you know, I was thinking, Oh, shit, how am I going to support my family? And so I immediately took a job that I hated. And I remember thinking of it, I remember really thinking about the things that people did. You know, you and I shared Jewish heritage, the things that our ancestors did, where they had to take these terrible jobs that were totally unsuited to them. And I remember thinking, well, maybe this is just what life is. And I just have to kind of capitulate, and I shouldn’t be doing the stuff that I want to do, I should just be doing stuff to, to support my family. And it was a very depressing thought it was like, Oh, God, maybe like that.
Eitan Chitayat 42:00
I actually wanted to ask you about you use the word depressing. I was pretty nice, pretty down a few years ago, when I was going through stuff. And it stemmed from anxiety. Hmm. How much is that played a part in your life?
William Green 42:19
Yeah, I think about that a lot. I’m definitely prone to anxiety, and worry, as well. And so there’s a big part of the book that’s about resilience, and equanimity and peace of mind. Yeah. And, and I spend an extraordinary amount of my time thinking about this and doing stuff in practical terms to deal with it. And I don’t know, I mean, my, if you could see that, the shelf here, I mean, this is this, just like the cabinet by the side of where I’m sitting now. It’s got, like the Punisher. It’s a book called primordial purity by Dilgo, Khyentse Rinpoche, blazing slender, another book by Dilgo Kinsei book called a genius and anxiety because they told me to buy, it’s about Jews and anxiety, the practice of groundedness, mastering the core teachings of the Buddha, and that gives you that that’s a selection of the books that are right next to me, because they’re things I’m sort of semi reading at the moment. And so I’m thinking constantly about how do you rewire your mind? So that you don’t I mean, there’s this beautiful line from Milton, right, the great poet who said, the mind can make a hell of Heaven or a heaven of hell. That’s in the book. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly.
So, so you can have an incredible life. You know, incredible luxury, external success. Tesla’s and Porsches and be utterly miserable. And so this is one of the things I’m writing about in the epilogue of the book is that if you don’t have peace of mind, all of the money, it’s kind of meaningless anyway. And so this is, that’s very personal. To me. That’s, that’s me grappling with this question of how do you gain more equanimity, more peace of mind, because it’s all an inside job if you do have a great deal of control over this, I think,
Eitan Chitayat 44:22
Well, I think that that’s, you know, especially the epilogue, which is, which I think that was probably my favorite, my most favorite chapter in the book, because that’s when it all kind of like comes together and you really feel the author you really feel you and, and, you know, at the end of the day, you know, I suffer from anxiety. Hmm. I think a lot of creative people do by the way, I think that yeah, that’s, you know, also seeking validation to what you produce and the the quest to make more so that people will experience it the way that you do and see you and see what’s in your mind and, and The fear of not being able to do that, or to fail or doing that. But But yeah, I sensed a lot of zombies, I sense a lot of anxiety will in your book, but like I sent this I sensed the fight the battle, to live a, you know, a richer, and a wiser and happier life is to fight the fear, to fight the fear of not doing the things that you don’t want to do, which we feel compelled that we should do, as opposed to being brave enough.
And to pursue the things that you are, like you’re saying what you were meant to do what your soul was meant to do, to be the person that you were meant to be with, to have the, the job that you want to have the family. You know, we all know that family life, you know, you know, people that you’re born into, that can be difficult to, and there’s a lot of anxiety in life. And, and it’s interesting like that one of the things that you go somewhere near the beginning. And this surprised me is one of the things that surprised me in the book. And I think this is in the introduction, when you know, something like a lot of what you had said in the book leads you to believe that the two titans of the investment world can help us to become richer, wiser happier. My goal is to show you how they win both in markets and life by finding countless ways to optimize the odds of success. And it’s not just odds of success in you know, getting wealthier, but it’s wealthy in spirit. And, um, and I think that the, the more you can fight the fear, the wealthier you will become in spirit.
And that really, really, really, really spoke to me. And it’s something that I also want to just bring up. And that’s, um, and this is important to me, because I also cognizant of time, but I’m Mohnish pabrai, who, who I’ve heard about from Guy, and you know, guy, and I have friends. And yeah, Guy sickens me with how good he is and how nice he is and how generous he makes me he’ll really to get the spirit because I want to be more like that. Yeah, and he talks a lot about Manouche and has spoken a lot about money ish. And I didn’t know anything really about him, he just goes on and on and on about him. And I’m like, okay, Mohnish like, I finally shut up already got, um, and then, you know, the man who called Warren Buffett and divide a lot about him at the beginning. And you wrote a memo to yourself that it was called Lessons from a niche.
And I’m going to read it and these are the rules. When you consider burnish his life and, and what you should learn from him. And there was certain things that resonated with you and you wrote, rule one con, like crazy rule to hang out with people who are better than you will three, treat life as a game, not as a survival contest, or a battle to the death will for be in alignment with who you are, don’t do what you don’t want to do, or what’s not right for you. Rule five, live by an inner scorecard, don’t worry about what others think of you don’t be defined by external validation. And take a simple idea and take it seriously. Some of the things like Tron like crazy, I think that’s, you know, I’m more on the investment side, which we can talk about, but I think, um, you know, rules too, and, you know, hanging out with the people and treating life as a game and not as a survival contest, and being in alignment with who you are, and don’t try to please other people, you know, live by inner, not by our validation. To me, a lot of those things fit into the fighting the fight.
William Green 48:58
Yeah. And it’s funny as you were reading them, I was thinking, how am I doing on each of those things? And I can see that there are certain things where I’ve made progress.
Eitan Chitayat 49:06
And that’s right. And that’s exactly what as I was reading it, you know, like, and I think that, that goes back to what you’re saying, like, I think you’ve got gold in this book, and you’ve got gold in the future. If you include some of this gold, you’re really going to help people. But I wanted to tell you when I read that, you know, there’s tons of stuff in this book, right? I took notes, but even that’s just one thing that you put that in there. And I’m like, huh, yeah, so you could read all this Buddhist spiritual stuff that’s going to help and what you’ve done a great job in and again, this is why I really, really love this book, and I really want people to read it, is that you’ve also done a really good job with taking from what people have told you and, and simplifying it and making it digestible, bite sized tips that you can literally write down on your Apple notes on your phone and look at it You know, every couple of weeks, and hey, how am I doing on those things like you said, um, and also, you really want to meet Monique Pat, right? Because he’s
William Green 50:10
One thing that that I found interesting in the process of writing the book is that when you simplify things, then you really synthesize and you distill them down to their essence, it’s a very scary thing. Because the truth actually turns out to be incredibly simple. And there’s a real vulnerability, to stripping things back to a degree, where it’s so simple, that you really worry that people are just going to see how banal you are, and how unprofessional and simplistic your mind is, and there’s this kind of exposure, you’re like, Oh, God, if I’m just saying, Yeah, live by an inner scorecard or clone like crazy or hang out with people who are better than you. These are such simple ideas. And that’s, that’s. And that’s why it came back to the end of that list. I talk about this idea from Charlie Munger, where that I say, is probably the most important lesson of all that I learned in hanging out with Mohnish, which is monger saying, Take a simple idea, take a good idea and take it seriously.
And that I think, like most truths, it’s very easy to have your eyes kind of glaze over and be like, ah, yeah, but I think with all of these things, you have to stop and really think about them, internalize them. And you have to say, some of these ideas about how to behave and how to live and how to think, are so simple, and yet so profound. That if you actually take it seriously, and you internalize it, and you make it a core part of your way of living, it changes everything. And so I got an email from someone in Israel yesterday, who, who I worked with, who said to me, that I told her again, she’s someone who’s not interested in investing, but I talked her about Mongo.
And I said to her, one of the things that Mongo says, is to have a good partner, be a good partner. And if you want to good spouse deserve one, and she said that she taken that so seriously, that it’s actually kind of changing her relationships, that she’s actually seeing the improvement in her relationships. And so there what you have with manga, is a 97 year old genius, distilling nine decades of wisdom into something so pure and so simple, that it seems like nothing. And yet, it’s kind of everything like that, to have a good spouse deserve one, to be a good partner to have a good partner V one, and then you apply that and you’re like, Okay, so how do I become? How do I have better friends? Be a good friend? And how do I have a good relationship with with my kids or my, my parents, you know, be a better son be a better be a better father, you know?
And it sounds so simple. But if you actually take the simple ideas seriously, they become kind of life changing. And so for me, I ended up writing a lot about simplicity. There’s a central chapter in the book about simplicity. And one of the things that I think so one of the things I did is I talked about how, you know, there are 613 Commandments in the Old Testament, and nobody knows what they are. Nobody can remember. No, nobody can live by all of them. And maybe that’s part of the point.
And so then we have this top 10 list of the 10 commandments, and then it all comes down according to Hillel to do not do to your neighbor, what’s hateful, hateful to you. And I love the fact that the Old Testament literally sums it up in three words, I have to laugh at pinata, which is when you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And so that to me, is something where I’m because I’m a little bit crazy. And I’m reading stuff all over the place. I see that and I’m like, Oh, that’s really interesting. That’s, that’s the Old Testament is doing exactly the same thing. Hillel is doing exactly the same thing that Charlie Munger is doing. When he’s when he’s looking back on a half century of his relationship with Warren Buffett. It’s literally it’s the most successful investment partnership in history. And I mean, they’ve created more than $500 billion in value.
And he’s saying, yeah, be a good partner. That’s it. And so I think, I think what’s kind of beautiful is that when you read widely and you think widely, you find these master principles that run through every area of your life that if you actually apply them, they have a profound impact not only on On your investment portfolio, but on your business, on your relationships with your family, on the way you live on, on your happiness. And so that that, in a sense is what I’m trying to do in the book is say, what are the master principles? What are the things these people live by? So think of think of something like compounding, right? So this is something where our eyes kind of glaze over, I can see there’s probably a part of your brain that’s like, kind of sagging and dismayed like, oh, shit, we’re gonna have to talk about compounding. But then you think of, of Geist is the application of compounding, which is to talk about the compounding of goodwill.
And so if you think of your life, as being full of these opportunities to compound goodwill through acts of kindness, that turns out over decades, the impact of that behavior compounded over decades, is just overwhelming. Same thing, if you adopt good habits with things like exercise, and meditation. So the impact of meditating on that particular day is usually pretty minimal. But if you meditate 1015 20 minutes a day, for the next 20 3040 years, the impact is overwhelming, on your peace of mind, same if same if you exercise for, you know, 150 to 200 minutes a week, overwhelming impact over years. And so, so just that simple idea of compounding kind of reverberates through every area of your life.
So if you go back to this question of equanimity that we were talking about, there’s something where I wrote about another friend of guys in mine, and Ken Rubenstein, who’s an extraordinary guy who quit the investment business quit as a very successful hedge fund manager and private equity manager to become a neurologist. And one of the things he said to me is, look, we know that there are four things that affect the performance of our brain that are going to make make your brain health better, that are going to help you make better decisions. So it’s exercise, meditation, good nutrition, and sleep. So that’s all credible ability to synthesize to reduce the complexity of neuroscience. So these four lessons. And so if you apply that simple lesson, you say, Okay, so when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m dealing with too much anxiety, I need, I need to have these good habits in place, because they’re going to, they’re going to enable me to think better and make better decisions.
And one of the things that can Rubenstein taught me, which I think is incredibly profound and practical, is he said, you don’t want to wait until the crisis to adopt these good habits. Of course, when you’re in the midst of a crisis, you want to have those good habits, but he said, you actually want to have them in place before everything goes to hell. And so that, to me, is a really profoundly practical and beautiful idea. But I want to be building a meditation practice and an exercise habit, and good nutrition, which I’m not very good at. I don’t think I’ve had chocolate in at least 45 minutes. But that’s only because we’ve been on this call. You have to develop those habits because they’re going to give you peace of mind.
And one of the crazy things is I’ve spent my life full of existential angst. And then when I started a couple of years ago, just to exercise routinely, I found so much of my angst disappeared. And it was like Jesus here I thought I was being like this profound thinker. And in fact, I just needed to get on a peloton. And so some of the stuff again, it’s like really simple and think again, a meditation, right, I was reading a beautiful book by a great Tibetan Buddhist master called chunky and Trumper Rinpoche was a controversial and fascinating character because he also drank himself to death, but was clearly enlightened. And then he talks about sitting, and just doing sitting meditation, he said, This may, in fact, be the greatest idea that mankind ever came up with, to think about, like just sitting, sitting and breathing, sitting and watching your voice
Eitan Chitayat 59:04
when you say that as your vibe with this enlightened person, but then there’s the rest of us. Were sitting stresses you out, and I know it takes practice. And I know that you have to stick with it, but you know, like, I’m that person when I go to the to do yoga. It’s all zenned out and fuck, I’m, I’m fucking stressed out of my brain. I’m like, I’m thinking about all the things that you meant to. And I think one of the things is, is is sticking with it, pushing through that and, and, and then it becomes the greatest gift to mankind. You know, but I think that part of the genius of, of applying these things to your life is and I think that this is something very personal for me, is it’s not just the it like It makes sense what that person is doing. It’s like it makes sense. Try it, you might hate it. Try it again, you’ll hate it less. Keep trying it until you cross that threshold into the beginnings of enlightenment. And I think that I’m I needed to say that as you’re talking about sitting down, because it’s
William Green 1:00:22
a buffet of tools and ideas, and you try them and you taste them. And you’re like, oh, yeah, that one, but it hasn’t worked. For me. Yeah, well, maybe I tried this guy, Chuck. I’m way of meditation a couple of years ago, and it didn’t resonate for me at all. And then I started trying it again the other day, and I’m like, oh, did I just blow two years by like, not trying this early on? It’s like, yeah, I you know, there’s a beautiful line from Shakespeare, the ripeness is all right. You know, you have to be right, you got to be ready for it. It’ll be ready.
Eitan Chitayat 1:00:55
I mean, I think that’s, that’s part of it. And I think that maybe it’s interesting. I mean, how old are you when? I’m 53? Okay, so I just turned 50 Mm hmm. And I think that, yeah, I think that, you know, as you get a little bit older, you know, like, our, our age, maybe like, you know, 45 onwards, you start realizing things and life is fucking hard. You know, it’s stressful, there’s this, there’s lots of fears, there’s a lot of responsibilities that come with, with being a parent with having to provide getting a little older, maybe getting a little bit bored of some people having issues and marriages, you know, can you know, kids all that stuff? And, and I think, I think maybe not that I’m saying, Hey, this is paid for people who are 50, and maybe going through some some difficulties. But I think that, you know, let’s not, let’s not, let’s not not talk about it. I mean, I think it’s these things are very relevant to people who start. So certainly become more aware of why they are the way that they are at this stage in their life. Because thinking about that stuff. You know, it’s not like when you are 20 years old, although a lot of these things, I think would speak to people who are younger as well, you know,
William Green 1:02:14
I think there’s a there’s a kind of second adolescence that comes in middle age. So when you’re when I was a very depressed teenager, and I think, you know, I was at boarding school in England, we will there was literally, I think, a lock up at 615 every night. And I mean, it was pretty, pretty intense. And I think I would have been miserable anyway. But, but yeah, that probably exacerbated it. But then middle age, I think there’s, again, there’s kind of this second adolescence, where you suddenly like, either, either everything worked out that you wanted, and you’re still like, Well, that didn’t quite do it. I, I’m still I’m still stuck with myself. And I’m still flawed in all of these ways, and still have lots of existential angst or whatever, or it didn’t work out and you’re like, Oh, my God, that’s kind of disappointing. So what am i No. So this is desperately overgeneralizing.
But I think there’s some in the same way that you’re slightly lost in trying to find your position in your teenage years. In your, for me anyway, in my 40s and 50s. And hastened by losing my my job as an editor when I was 40, and my profession melting down, it hastens this kind of self examination, we have to say. So what does work? If so for me, part of what happened is the first half of my life, I hopefully the first half of us will see this hubris in saying that part of what happened in the early years of my life was, everything was built on ego, right? It was like, I’m gonna impress all these people, they’re gonna see how smart I am and how successful I am. And, you know, I’m going to be this kind of Master of the Universe. So it was all built on fragility. It was all built on it on a desire for external validation in a way to make me feel better inside, which I think is partly a result of that English education will build up partly also our wiring. And when things kind of fell apart when I was 40, then I had to be the SE. Those were meaningless. And I just kind of become a nihilist and depressed or, in my case, oddly, I went from being kind of somewhere between agnostic and atheistic to being increasingly spiritual. And, and my life has become much, much more meaningful over the last 13 years. And I think I’m weary of saying this because I don’t want to sound like a proselytizer, but But I think, for me, it deepened everything because I started to want to be successful, not just for my own ego, there’s still a big aspect of that.
But it started to be more I mean, it’s very hard to say this without being sort of self righteous. And, but But I, I mean, there’s a, there’s a guy who’s a teacher of mine who just would say over and over, he said said, You need to be saying to yourself all the time, how can I how can I be a conduit in a resting place for the light. However, however you want to see that, for goodness, for kindness, compassion, you want to be in some ways, a conduit and a resting place for good stuff in life a force for good. And I don’t think I spent a whole lot of time in my youth thinking about how to be a force for good, I think it was all kind of a survival mechanism. How do I make myself look better than this person? How do I attract the girl? How do I get the promotion? How do I get more money? You know, it was all it was very much fear based. And so I think, I think increasingly, it shifted. And it’s more about I don’t know, again, it’s very hard to say this without sounding self-righteous. But I but I, I mean, this is partly what I’m trying to write about when I write about someone like Arnold Vandenberg, at the end of my book is, is that I think he embodies this is, here’s a guy who, for example, when he looks when he looks at, you know, he says, Look, the greatest thing that the money has given me, is it enables me to share with other people. And he’s someone who, you know, grew up in hiding during the Holocaust. And so he’s had this extraordinary transformation in his life. But really, all he’s doing is sharing and lifting up other people and taking care of other people. And so I think, I think that’s part of I’m saying this in a very inarticulate way. But that’s part of what I’m groping towards, is the sense that
Eitan Chitayat 1:06:51
people, people like
William Green 1:06:53
Charlie Munger, and Arnold Vandenberg, whatever their flaws Irving Kahn, they point the way towards what a more meaningful life is all about. And, and so my early days with all being built on my ego, sort of saw demonstrably that that didn’t work. And so I could look up to when it fell apart. I could look at it as like, that’s a curse. But it’s like, no, it’s an incredible blessing. Because you look back at that period, and you’re like, Okay, that didn’t work. So now what do I do? How do I rebuild on a better foundation? And I think I just got lucky that I have, that I’ve had incredible teachers and role models and stuff that I can look at and be like, Oh, that worked. And one of the things manga says he says, he says, I observe what works and what doesn’t work and why. So there’s something about the great investors that they’re these ruthless pragmatists that they’re, they just care about what works.
Eitan Chitayat 1:07:48
Then I’m a huge Prince fan. And he has a song called Let’s work and you know, one of the repeated lyrics are you willing to do the work? And yeah, I think luck plays a big part in a lot of what we do. But to your credit, sir, you’re doing the work. And, and I appreciate that, and I appreciate your gifts. Well, I think this has been one of my favorite podcast conversations. Thank you. I could talk to you all day. And I think I’ll have to do this again. I would like to thank you for just being here with me. I would like to again, reiterate to anyone listening. Please do yourself a favor and go out and buy this incredible book by this wonderful man. richer, richer, wiser happier by William Green. Keep doing what you’re doing, sir.
William Green 1:08:43
Thank you so much.