CNBC make it 2024-05-15 02:00:55

Harvard expert: The No. 1 lesson to learn from Warren Buffett’s career—‘you can’t be really successful’ without it

Warren Buffett holds a unique place in the hearts and minds of investors all over the world.

A key trait helped him reach such prestige, according to Harvard University leadership expert Bill George: Buffett, the longtime CEO of holding company Berkshire Hathaway, found the “sweet spot” between doing something he’s good at and doing something he actually enjoys.

Achieving that balance makes leaning on your strengths and staying motivated over time easier, says George, a Harvard Business School executive fellow and ex-CEO of medical device company Medtronic.

“To be truly successful, to do anything great, you have to use your strengths,. You can’t just correct your weaknesses,” George tells CNBC Make It. Motivation is equally important, he adds: If your work “doesn’t excite you, it just becomes a time attack.”

“So I think you need both to be truly successful,” he says. “You can get by on one, but you can’t be really successful unless you have both.”

George studied Buffett’s leadership and Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meetings ahead of co-writing his 2022 book, “True North: Emerging Leader Edition.” Figuring out what drives you and what you have to offer the world is the first step to achieving Buffett’s level of self awareness, George and co-author Zach Clayton wrote — but that’s easier said than done. 

Here’s how to tap into the same sweet spot Buffett found, says George.

Find what motivates you

There are two types of motivation, George says: extrinsic motivation, like a comfortable salary, and intrinsic motivation, like enjoying a job where you get to help people every day.

Both play a role in career longevity. “If you’re just motivated by making a lot of money, it will run out on you. You’ll find that things are very hollow and you don’t actually have the joy you thought you had,” George notes.

Buffett likely has his extrinsic motivations covered: At age 93, he’s the seventh-richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $135.6 billion, according to Forbes.

His intrinsic motivations, however — sharing his knowledge and wealth with others, including detailed explanations of his investment strategies and a promise to pledge 99% of his fortune to charity —  may be what truly drives him, George says.

Buffett didn’t immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.

Becoming more successful can start with figuring out your own intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, says George. One potential starting place: Take a few minutes to observe and write down a list of activities and passions you enjoy, and goals you have for yourself, suggests a 2023 blog post from job search platform Indeed.

“Ask yourself what matters to you and why you take the actions that you do,” the blog post advises. “These motivations can be varied, like earning a livelihood or contributing to the progress of a discipline or industry. When you understand why you want to accomplish something, you can use this to motivate yourself.”

Home in on your strengths

Finding a job that fulfills you only gets so far. You also need to figure out a way to apply your biggest strengths to it, so you can excel at it.

Professionals who exercise their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in the workplace, three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life and 8% more productive, a 2015 Gallup analysis found.

Buffett’s strengths include autonomy, avoiding mistakes and optimism, George and Clayton wrote in their book — plus his keen eye for a good investment, which he started cultivating at age 11. Buffett is also “sloppy” with hands-on management, and doesn’t like letting go of employees or telling others what to do, the billionaire said at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2014 shareholder meeting.

Knowing his weaknesses helped Buffett build a team of executives who can help in those areas, allowing him to focus on what he does best, says George. If you’re not the boss, you can still identify the moments when your weaknesses show up, practice getting better at them and give yourself grace when things get difficult, bestselling author Joseph Grenny wrote for Harvard Business Review in 2017.

Similarly, you can get in tune with your strengths by asking your manager for feedback and paying attention to when you’re most productive — jotting down the task you were doing at that moment. The more you learn, the more you can take on opportunities and projects that better align with your capabilities.

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I pay $1,450/mo to live on a Toronto houseboat—‘the best decision I ever made’: Take a look inside

I’ve spent much of my life on the water. I took sailing lessons as a child, spent 10 months living and studying aboard a tall ship in high school, and worked as a stewardess on a yacht for two and a half years after university.

When I moved from the water into Canada’s largest city, Toronto, in 2013, I figured boat life was behind me — an unfortunate but necessary trade-off for a career in the big city.

Toronto is one of the least affordable housing markets in the world. Though I’d saved up, I recognized that I’d likely need to rent for the foreseeable future as I transitioned to my new life on land.

But in 2020, after several months of living in Covid lockdown with my three housemates, I stumbled upon an article about houseboats for sale just 30 minutes from downtown. The featured houseboats ranged in price from about $235,000 to about $286,000.

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With the average Toronto area home selling for nearly $700,000 at the time, these houseboats were one of the few affordable options. 

Within months, one of them would become my new home. 

Buying a houseboat: ‘It felt like the perfect place for me’

I visited one of the houseboats the following week. The marina brimmed with life. Swans glided up to the houseboat, kayakers paddled by, and friendly neighbors stopped to chat. 

It felt like the perfect place for me. But, despite years of living on boats, I had absolutely no experience with houseboats. I was way out of my depth.

Nevertheless, when I heard someone else was putting in an offer a few weeks later, I decided to take the plunge. I got my finances together and secured a loan from a family member for about $25,000 on top of the money I’d saved up. 

My offer of $248,159 (342,500 Canadian dollars) for the 625-square-foot houseboat was accepted, and I made the move in November 2020.

Moving aboard: ‘The best decision I ever made’

Going straight into a Canadian winter as a houseboat novice is generally considered a poor decision. But I had neighbors who came over armed with tools and optimism when my pipes froze. They dropped off jars of freeze-dried corn for the swans and soup for me.

Three years later, I regard buying my houseboat as the best decision I ever made.

I’m a marketing content specialist and primarily work remotely from my waterside desk overlooking the harbor. If I need to go into the office, I can take a quick train downtown. 

Despite the proximity to the city, it feels like I live in another world. I spend my summers going for sunrise kayaks and picnics at the beach after work. In winter, I cozy up by the fire with my two cats, Charlie and Finn, and explore the park and cross-country ski when the snow permits. 

Leaving the convenience of city life has been a small price to pay for the daily joys and serenity of living on the water. 

When it comes to the costs of houseboat life, there’s some variation between summer and winter, but these are my typical monthly fees:

  • Mooring fee: $732 (covers my allotted space on the dock, water, access to electricity and septic pump out, parking, and mail)
  • Insurance: $223
  • Electricity: $76
  • Internet: $57
  • Loan repayment: $362

Total: $1,450 U.S.

In addition to recurring costs, I’d estimate I’ve spent about $2,200 U.S. on small renovations since I moved in. 

Take a look inside my houseboat

My houseboat is nestled among 25 floating homes. To enter, you walk across the gangplank and onto the front deck. The dockside has hookup points for water, electricity, septic pump out, and fiber internet.

The first thing you’ll see when you step inside is my bright, surprisingly spacious kitchen. I love cooking and have made this space my own. I retiled the backsplash, put in a new sink and faucet, and changed out the cabinet backs for rattan. With my brother’s help, I recessed the cupboards and added an 18″ dishwasher and work surface.

I have a countertop oven and a two-range cooktop, where I’ve made curries, homemade pizzas, and baked treats to share with my neighbors.

My bathroom has a typical residential toilet (which flushes into a holding tank below) and a bathtub. Integrating a shower is in my future plans.

The main room has a tall, sloping ceiling that makes the space feel large and open. This area acts as my living room, dining room, and office, and features a wood stove and sliding glass doors that exit onto my back deck.

My favorite thing I own is probably my cloud bookshelf. I love the combination of practical storage with a playful look.

Up the staircase is my loft bedroom. It fits a queen-sized bed, some drawers, and a small hanging closet my brother helped me build. My room has windows along all four walls overlooking the harbor and dock.

The upper deck is my oasis. I’ve spent countless hours pressure washing, sanding, and staining the wood, potting flowers, and finding the perfect outdoor furniture. Even though I can only use it for half the year, it’s my favorite spot on the houseboat.  

Is houseboat life the easiest option? No. But for me, I can’t imagine anything more perfect.

Kate Fincham is a content writer based out of Toronto. She shares her day-to-day experiences living on a houseboat on her Instagram and TikTok accounts.

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Richard Branson says money isn’t a good way to measure success: Focus on this 1 word instead

Richard Branson doesn’t want to be defined by his money.

Specifically, he finds it “quite insulting” when he is introduced as “the billionaire Richard Branson,” rather than as the co-founder of Virgin Group, he tells CNBC Make It. The reason: Nobody should view their net worth as an ultimate measure of success, and it’s “very sad” when making money is the sole focus of a person’s life, he says.

“Maybe in America, ‘billionaire’ is a sign of success, but that rankles me,” says Branson. “I think that your reputation is what you create.”

In Branson’s case, his reputation is often defined by Virgin Group, a venture capital and holding company that owns businesses in a wide variety of industries, from airlines and telecommunications to spaceflight.

The company is largely responsible for his estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, according to Forbes — but he chafes at the idea he created it to make money.

“Your reputation is [whether] your team of people who work with you are proud of what they’ve created,” Branson says. “Paying the bills at the end of the year is important, but what entrepreneurs are doing all over the world today — and the only reason they’re succeeding — is that they’re making a difference in other people’s lives. And that’s all that really matters.”

Whenever Branson launches a new venture — citing Virgin Atlantic in 1984 and Virgin Mobile in 1999 — he asks himself two questions, he says:

  • If I create this, can it be better than what everybody else is doing?
  • Can it make a real difference in the world?

Financial success has often followed, but Branson is adamant that money has never been his chief motivating force.

His first successful business venture, a youth culture magazine called “Student,” was primarily meant to challenge “stale” traditional publications, Branson has noted. It tackled cultural issues like popular music and campaigning against the Vietnam War.

“I wanted it to survive. And yes, I wanted to have enough advertising to pay the printers and the paper manufacturers,” he says. “But money was certainly not the motivation for running a magazine.”

Branson’s top advice for becoming successful

Branson’s advice: Seek out opportunities you find interesting and exciting. It’s a recipe for greater happiness, and you’re more likely to end up successful than if you’re only thinking about the bottom line, he says.

“We only have one life,” says Branson. “We spend a lot of time at work and it’d be sad if we’re only doing it for our paychecks.”

Of course, success is never guaranteed. If you do follow your passions, you’ll still need factors like talent and perseverance on your side to avoid falling flat, experts say.

But Branson isn’t the only billionaire who advises that personal fulfillment doesn’t always have to come from amassing great wealth.

“Success isn’t necessarily how much money you have,” serial entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban told LinkedIn’s “The Path” podcast last year. “Success is just setting a goal and being able to wake up every morning feeling really good about what you’ve accomplished.”

Cuban, who grew up in a blue-collar family near Pittsburgh, has long held that his career path was dictated more by a desire to control his own time than any financial aspirations.

“Time is the one asset you can never get back. You can never truly own [it],” he said at SXSW in March. “I wanted to be … in a position where I get to call my own shots [and] spend time the way I wanted to spend time. That was always my motivating factor.”

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This American bought a $1 home in Italy and spent $35,000 renovating it: ‘It’s much easier to be happier here’

When Rubia Daniels heard a town in Italy was selling off abandoned homes for 1 euro each (or roughly $1.05), she had to take a look herself.

The Berkeley, Calif., resident booked her first flight to Mussomeli, Sicily, in 2019 and quickly ended up buying not one, not two, but three crumbling properties at a bargain price.

Daniels, 50, has a construction background and envisioned three dream projects: a vacation home, a restaurant and a wellness center. So far, she’s spent about $35,000 working with a local crew on her vacation home.

Despite the stress of renovating a home across the world through the pandemic, Daniels says the Mussomeli lifestyle has brought more happiness into her life.

Making friends in Sicily

One of the biggest reasons why Daniels decided to buy in Mussomeli was how welcome she felt when she visited.

The real estate agent who sold her the houses, Nathalie Milazzo, took Daniels around to restaurants, cafes and other parts of Mussomeli to really get a sense of what it’s like to live in the town. Daniels now considers her “like a sister.”

Mussomeli is tiny, with just about 9,900 residents, but Daniels says many people have strong bonds.

“It’s much easier to make friends in Sicily than it is to make friends back in California,” Daniels says. “In Sicily, the social life is very important. Everybody has time to talk to you, to know you, or to share a cup of coffee.”

Daniels became fast friends with Katerina Montagnino, a local, who has become like family. Daniels hosted Montagnino and her husband during a recent trip to California, and she’s even godmother to their 2-year-old son, Leo.

That’s not to say that Daniels’ California neighbors aren’t friendly, but the pace of living is different. “Typically back home, people are always in a rush” shuffling between work and home, she says, and they don’t have time for social activities.

Fewer money problems and less stress overall

Sicilians approach leisure time much differently from Americans. For one, most Sicilians take part in a daily lunch and nap break from noon to 4 p.m. when most of the town shuts down. Big family dinners are common and can last from 9 p.m. until midnight. And it’s both easy and affordable to travel around Italy and the rest of Europe.

The cost of living is low for a high quality of life by American standards. A nice meal out might be 10 euros ($10.50) or less, while a round-trip flight out of Italy can be less than 50 euros ($52.50). As far as housing goes, roughly 90% of Mussomeli residents already own their homes, if not multiple properties through inheritance laws, so rent is less of a concern.

It’s a big difference from the high cost of living in the U.S., especially in the Bay Area where Daniels lives, where a typical family of four needs a household income of more than $300,000 to live comfortably.

Daniels sees a direct relation between high living costs and high stress, which leads Americans to overwork and means less time to invest in friendships and other passions.

“It’s a much more stressful way of living,” Daniels says.

Now that she lives in Mussomeli for part of the year, “it’s much easier to be happier here than it is to be happier back at home,” she says.

The biggest challenge for me over here in Sicily is just the amount of carbs that they consume.
Rubia Daniels
1-euro homeowner in Mussomeli, Sicily

Each visit is another example of how lower financial stress, more social time and moderate physical activity (many people walk in the hilly town) can lead to better health outcomes, despite some persistent vices.

“People here, they consume a lot of alcohol, nicotine, carbs, and they live longer than most places,” Daniels points out. “I believe it’s because the level of stress is so low and [the fact that] the community is so active that that gives them longevity.”

“The biggest challenge for me over here in Sicily is just the amount of carbs that they consume,” Daniels says jokingly. “Other than that, life is beautiful.”

Conversions from euros to USD were done using the OANDA conversion rate of 1 euro to 1.05 USD on Oct 18, 2023. All amounts are rounded to the nearest dollar.

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29-year-old’s side hustle made $114K a year, so he quit his job: I’m more successful and I work less

Carter Osborne spent two months agonizing over whether to leave his full-time job for his tutoring side hustle.

He did both jobs simultaneously for five years. But in August 2023, he was promoted to director at his public relations firm, giving him more responsibility. At the same time, his side hustle — editing high school seniors’ college admissions essays — had grown large enough that between the two gigs, he was working 70 hours per week, he says.

The side gig netted him more than $114,000 last year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It — effectively doubling his salary, he says. By that November, he was looking for a new full-time job — and realized none of his options had “that deep, passionate, resonate feeling that education has,’” says Osborne, 29.

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Then, one of his tutoring students was accepted to his first-choice school: Pitzer College, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California. Osborne was so elated that he paced around his living room for several minutes, frantically texting the student his congratulations, he says.

Decision made: Tutoring would become his full-time job. Osborne left the PR firm in January, and is already finding that with more availability, he can take on more clients. Despite spring being a slow season for college admission tutoring, he already has 24 clients on his roster, he says. This time last year, he had just nine.

“I’ve found more success, and frankly, more love for the craft,” says Osborne.

Transitioning a side hustle into a full-time business

Osborne started his side hustle as a graduate student in 2017, hoping to make a little extra money. He had a mentor — someone he’d consulted when applying to schools himself, four years prior — who referred him some clients.

The business “snowballed” from there, growing almost exclusively by word of mouth, Osborne told Make It in August.

Currently, he’s working three hours per week, he says — researching essay trends, admissions stats and developing new tutoring services. That could ramp up to at least 40 hours per week by the end of the summer, and possibly more this coming fall.

That’s because demand for tutors is high: Last year, Osborne worked with 52 clients and had to turn others away, he says. More people are applying to college than ever before, and students are struggling with their essays more post-Covid than they used to.

Even for the most well-equipped applicants, applying for college is an “extraordinary workload,” Osborne says. When he applied for college in 2013, he wrote five or six essays. Now, many students applying to multiple schools are required to write upwards of 20, he says.

If demand rises enough, Osborne might hire another tutor — possibly a part-time contractor — to help with the workload, he says. He could also expand his business’ services: Other types of students also write admissions essays, from transfers and graduate school applicants to children hoping to get into their middle school or high school of choice.

Navigating financial unknowns

Osborne doesn’t quite know how to project a full year’s earnings yet, since the bulk of his business’ revenue comes in the second half of each year.

Before leaving his full-time job, he calculated his next six months of his household expenses — including his mortgage, business insurance and average weekly spending — and found enough of a “financial cushion” in his savings to cover it, he says.

In the meantime, Osborne is mostly using his offseason free time to exercise more, walk his dog and visit his parents more often, he says. Simply having the freedom to unplug makes him feel less stressed about taking his side hustle full time, he adds.

“I had the money for [vacation and travel last year], but no time to do it,” says Osborne. “So, what good was it? … It’s been very freeing to me to be able to control the scope and the growth of my business.”

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. CNBC Make It readers can use special discount code CNBC40 to get 40% off through 8/15/24.

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