This weekend, in honor of Warren Buffett’s 90th birthday, I’d like to consider the phenomenon of compounding. It’s a little-known fact that Buffett earned almost 90% of his $82 billion fortune after the age of 65. Yet supposedly he has been fascinated by compounding since the age of 10, when he had an epiphany about how wealth could grow over time through the steady effects of return on investment.
While it’s true that money compounds, I’d like to argue that wisdom does, too. At the age of 9, I had an epiphany of my own and concluded that there is no omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent god overseeing the universe and the fate of humanity. (Hey, I beat Buffett by a whole year!) This was the first step on my path to wisdom; ever since, I’ve continually sought to learn more and more about how to achieve success – not just success in work or career or making money, but success as a human being. It’s a big job!
Here too, I find that investing in an examined life yields ever-increasing returns as I immerse myself in different wisdom traditions, explore history and philosophy and psychology and literature and the arts and sciences, make connections among these disparate fields of inquiry, engage in never-ending self-improvement, build relationships with a wide range of people and especially with those who are dear to me, make decisions and take action in the world, learn better practices and acquire better habits, and endeavor to live up to my ideals in the face of misfortune.
Although there is great financial value to be gained in recognizing the wisdom of compounding, there is even greater human value to be gained in recognizing the compounding of wisdom.