Buffett once gave a presentation at the University of Georgia. The students asked him about his definition of success.
Your only measure of success, Buffett shared, should be the number of "people you want to have love you actually do love you." He explained further:
I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them. If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don't care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.
So let me get this straight. The fifth-wealthiest person on the planet says that the amount you are loved -- not your riches or personal accomplishments -- is the ultimate measure of success.
Solving the love problem
Love is the most powerful emotion a human being can feel, and yet, we still find it hard to achieve it.
In business, we trade love for greed in hopes of finding fame and accumulating a fortune as our measure of success. We treat business as war, talking in violent terms like capturing market share and crushing the competition as the enemy. We dehumanize employees by treating them as commodities and customers as prey. We lack love.
We map out our career paths and narrow our focus to the top of the corporate ladder, trampling over others to get there. We buy expensive, homes, cars, and vacations as the way to a blissful existence. We murmur to ourselves, "I've arrived." And yet we still feel empty inside, searching for meaning and purpose while filling the void with more toys.
Buffett turns the conventional definition of success on its head. He still lives in the same Omaha, Nebraska, house he bought for $31,500 in 1958, $250,000 in today's dollars. To him, success means giving in order to receive.
"The problem with love is that it's not for sale," Buffett told the students. "The only way to get love is to be lovable. It's very irritating if you have a lot of money. You'd like to think you could write a check: I'll buy a million dollars' worth of love. But it doesn't work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get."
Buffett's principle of success is a rare path indeed. But if you're willing to reframe your definition of success and leave your own legacy, the path of putting love into motion is a much more fulfilling one. Here are three ways to do it.
1. Be selfless
The laws of love are reciprocal, so when you choose to help others, offer encouragement, mentor an employee, give of your time, and pour into someone else, love comes back in full force through increased trust, respect, loyalty, and commitment.
2. Treat others the way they want to be treated
The Golden Rule says treat others as you would like to be treated. But the Platinum Rule takes it to a whole new level: Treat others the way they want to be treated. This requires empathy and respecting what others want, instead of projecting our own values and preferences. That doesn't mean we should ignore the Golden Rule altogether, but we should realize its limitations given that every person and every situation is so different.
3. Follow your passion.
Buffett said, "In the world of business, the people who are most successful are those who are doing what they love." Many of us take our cushy paychecks and job security for granted, even though we might hate our jobs and would rather be doing something else -- something we actually love. Doing what we love is a major contributor to true happiness in life. So if you don't know what your passion is, it's time to figure that out.