What does it mean to be well-rounded? Eating tons of cheeseburgers will get you there but that is not what I mean. This is similar to keeping things in balance but easier and more fun I think.
Being a well-rounded person means that you know a little about a lot and don’t get obsessed with anything in particular. I think it winds up making you a more interesting person to be around and will ultimately lead to a more enjoyable life.
One of the wiser humans I’ve come across causes me to consider this concept. I also learned it by watching folks with narrow views on life miss out on life (this is ignorance but not in a mean way).
Charlie Munger is the business partner of the (one time) richest man alive, Warren Buffet. I consider both men to be wise in a variety of ways. Charlie prescribed a theory where he wanted to learn the basic concepts of all disciplines. He didn’t want to be an expert at much of anything but wanted to have a general knowledge of most everything. His theory is that it takes entirely too much time, energy, and effort to become an expert at something. It takes much less to be a generalist and the benefits you gain from a broad base of knowledge far outweigh the benefits of a highly concentrated body of knowledge. The world needs masters for sure. If you master a particular skill, trade, profession you can be richly rewarded. Think of a surgeon, a gold medal-winning gymnast, a bodybuilder, a carpenter, an artist, etc. people will seek out and monetarily reward those who are the absolute best at what they do. Now think of how many people there are on the planet. Everyone is not a master. In all of history, only a few have risen to the top of whatever they excel at and are remembered for their contribution well past their passing. That’s just the way it is and also the reason the reward can be great when excellence in one’s craft is achieved.
Often it takes incredible dedication mixed with a good bit of luck for things to play out. So for the vast majority of folks, we wind up being simply ok at what we set out to do. This is mainly because we lack the focused intensity to become excellent and luck to become richly rewarded for it. Think of all the training, sacrifice, and luck it took to become Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Jackson, etc. I’m positive these folks wouldn’t trade their success or lives for anything but I also promise they led imbalanced lives. What if things hadn’t worked out. Would they have regretted their singularly focused life? For us average folks I think it is important for us to try as much as possible in our lives. Who knows…that thing we haven’t tried yet may very well be our favorite thing ever. Charlie Munger would agree. Maybe astronomy is our passion and we didn’t know it. Maybe sailing is our passion. Maybe Thai food is the best thing we’ve never tasted. You never know until you try something or learn something that you didn’t know what lies out there for you. It also makes you a more interesting person to talk to. If you know a little about a lot then you will be able to hold your own in most conversations…even if it is picking the brain of someone who knows a ton about something you know nothing about. The world gets smaller every day with our ability to learn just about anything we want to learn about as quickly as we want to learn about it. Our ability to travel great distances and ship anything almost anywhere also makes things a reality that was never before possible. Use all the tools in your basket to learn as much as you can about as much as you can…and don’t get stuck on anything too long. There is so much to learn. I’ve always pushed myself to learn about new things. I’ve grown so much. It is sometimes scary learning new things. I always feel like I’m going to mess something up or embarrass myself. There is always someone around that knows more about whatever it is I’m trying to do. I’ve learned to just turn off those little voices in my head. I’ve learned that with most things the information is there to learn how to do what it is you are trying to do. Take the time to learn it. The more I do it the more confident I have become and the easier it is for me to do it again. I think the best examples of this in my life are:
- Acting – I was always a shy, quiet kid. I’d get embarrassed and turn red anytime attention diverted my way. Somehow in youth group, I figured out I could be funny and that I had a little stage presence. I wound up trying out for a play and landed a lead role in a play. Late in my high school career, I tried all kinds of different things because of the confidence I built by doing this. I wound up with a very eclectic high school experience that looked very well-rounded on my resume. All because I tried something completely different and one thing led to another.
- Basketball – I played Craig Jones every single day in PE in one on one basketball for a full year. I never beat him and I never got better. I would practice dribbling for hours. Shooting for hours. No better. I stank. I knew/know how much time and energy I’d have to invest to get better and then I still probably wouldn’t be all that good. No big deal. Sure I’d love to be better at basketball (and a host of other things). I’m not and it isn’t worth the time and energy to get there. I tried it and know enough to move on with life. No harm no foul.
- Databases – When we started Investment Scorecard computers were just coming onto the scene. In the mid-’90s, the early Internet was run over 14 bits/s and 56 bits/s (if you were blazing fast) modems. We had one computer in our whole office of 4 people and it was a beast. It was as tall as our desk and was a blazing 133 MHz Gateway 2000 tower. Today the phone I’m typing this on is a GHz chipset?!? We didn’t even know what a database was but we knew we needed one. I got set in my mind that I was going to learn everything I could about it. I did. I started with a book called “21 Days to Microsoft Access” and learned it by building stuff. Over the years I’ve built probably close to 50 Access databases and used the concepts all through my career to build enterprise-level systems. I’m not a programmer but I know enough to talk the talk (many times better than real programmers). People (real programmers) laugh about my Access databases but the things I’ve built run multi-million dollar companies just fine.
- Entrepreneur – I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just knew I wanted to do something to pay the bills and understand money and business. I figured if I could learn as much as I could I’d make it in whatever was to come. Towards the end of my college life, I knew I needed some experience in the real world in what I had been learning. I struck out to find an internship (with really no clue what was ahead). I wound up talking to several folks and meeting Joe Maxwell who took a chance (I guess) on me. He said I could come work for his company for free. Joe was quite a salesman and made it sound fairly incredible. When I got there it was a couple of guys in a room (a small crappy room…even for a college kid). I had in my mind a little firm with big mahogany desks and everyone sipping scotches and smoking cigars. We didn’t have squat…a product, clients, computers, furniture, rules, a clue. I loved it. I learned so much and work for months for free (while holding down part-time jobs and school). I worked my tail off. If I didn’t know what to do I figured out what to do. I was so innocent and ignorant that I didn’t even know to be scared or risk-averse. We had just gotten married and had Preston and didn’t have a pot to pee in. With seemingly nothing to lose all we had to do was work hard…a lot. Looking back it was a pressure cooker of stress…we just didn’t know it. It was so good to go through that so early in life. I have confidence in myself that I’d never have learned without it. I am so much more rounded because I was able to work in all kinds of aspects of that business. I would have never been exposed to all that if I had not gone down an entrepreneurial path. I love working in entrepreneurial environments…it never gets boring…ever!
- Carpentry – Your Mom and I moved a few times as our family grew. We did a lot of noodling on whether to move to another house or just work on our current house. We finally decided for all kinds of reasons to stay in our little cracker box. We would finish our basement (not do an addition and not move). Now I had never bought so much as a two-by-four from Home Depot before starting this project. I do not know one single thing about framing, electrical, plumbing, drywall, flooring…construction in general. I started in on tearing out the existing walls with my hammer and a screwdriver. I quickly started buying tools I had never heard of before. Could I have paid someone? Sure. Would it have cost more? Sure. Would it have gotten done early? Sooner than the 3 years it took…for sure. Would I have relaxed more on the weekends and been less stressed out? Absolutely. Would I have the skills I will have for life? Nope! I’ve used them since to build a deck, and also in my job with Aid & Assist. I plan to use them for many years to come. I’m more well-rounded and can talk the talk with construction folks now…that’s just fun!
Ignorance. This word many times has a negative connotation. I view it positively…sometimes! I can’t tell you how many times I and others bit off more than they could chew and wound up being successful because we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Sometimes ignorance can be your biggest strength. You don’t know enough to know you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing or that you should be scared out of your living mind. Of course, sometimes this can be bad. Not knowing what you’re doing can also end in terrible times. Don’t let that situation last long! But don’t ever let fear of not knowing everything keep you from doing something! Use ignorance to your advantage and then work your tail off to learn everything you can. You’ll wind up pushing yourself to learn new things and do things you might never have done before.
So follow in Charlie’s footsteps and learn a little about a lot! Most importantly learn…a lot! The more you do this the more well-rounded you are which will pay dividends for many years to come. I’ve never met a well-rounded person yet who hasn’t done well in many areas of their life!
Love you so much!
[originally posted] 3/1/2015 (actually wrote this about 2 years ago…too busy learning new things to post I guess)