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Interview with Peter Buffett ‘Life Is What You Make It’

Peter Buffett on stage at the piano
Peter Buffett on stage at the piano
Peter Buffett on stage at the piano
Peter Buffett on stage at the piano

Vegan Magazine interviews Peter Buffett, Emmy Award-winning composer and musician, author, philanthropist, and youngest son of billionaire Warren Buffett.

Peter Buffett’s latest venture is his inspiring new book, Life Is What You Make It, about following your passions and living life to its fullest.  To bring the message of the book alive, Buffett has crafted Life Is What You Make It: A Concert & Conversation with Peter Buffett, a live music event that incorporates multi-media and personal stories to give the audience an authentic, inspirational, and impactful evening. Using his own life story and experiences as illustration, Buffett ultimately conveys that it’s ones values – and what we are able to give back to society – that shape and define us as individuals.

Why did you feel the need to write your book “Life Is What You Make It”?

PB: It was really because as I got older and more established in my own business in the world of music and my father at the same time became more and more well known, people would say, “You are Warren Buffett’s son, you’re so normal.” I thought that was a nice compliment and then I also thought that it was a little bit sad and wondered why that was true? As we hear stories in the media about kids of wealthy parents, you start to wonder if wealth does lead to abnormality in some ways. So I thought maybe by telling my story and the values I learned from my parents, as well as the approach I took in making my own way in life, it might be valuable to others, whether kids of wealthy parents, or not.

Who do you hope to reach with the book?

PB: Really anyone in transition — it seems to be resonating with university and even high school age kids in particular as they think about their own path in life and how to go about being their true, authentic selves. But I think it’s also resonated, certainly got responses from people in their forties and fifties who are rethinking their career whether it’s because they’ve been unhappy in the one they’ve had or recently lost their job — so really any one in transition.

What are the key elements to achieving inner happiness?

PB: Well… that’s the million dollar question. I feel that we live in a world increasingly filled with noise. In my business of music and recording, you strive to get a strong signal to noise ratio, and in life I think the noise is pretty much everything coming in from the outside world. Advertising and media lead the pack, but also friends, relatives, parents all saying, “This is how you can be happy; This is what you need to be happy; This is what happiness means.” All those things that may or may not be true, but only in relation to your own inner signal, you know who you are, your own true voice. So getting a strong signal to noise ratio in life I think is critical.

When did you first feel an inner happiness?

PB: I think I’ve felt it many times in life and I think it’s always when I feel I’m making choices that are right for me…back to that signal idea. My heart or my gut is feeling like this is the right move. Even if it ends up being a mistake, I learn so much from it, so it’s not necessarily always being right but feeling right in the sense that it’s something I’m trying to move towards. That may sound selfish, but it’s also in relation to the world around me, so I’m measuring what feels good inside with what also resonates to feeling good with the relationships outside. Am I happy in my relationships? Are they fulfilling? Those kinds of things….so when I first felt it? Oh boy, I don’t know…probably when I was very young and I was probably sitting at the piano, actually.

What are the most important lessons that parents can teach their children?

PB: I would say that it’s the lessons that surround relationships – the relationship with yourself and relationships with the outside world. Really, I always fall back on the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I think that’s a fundamental thing that if we truly live by, we’d probably live in a different world today in a lot of ways. It’s so simple on one level, but I think it’s still very true. Parents need to impart to their children that they live in a world of relationships and that you need to look at yourself and how you affect others and then that can be a guide to how to move through life in a fulfilling and effective way. I hope that makes sense.

What are your fondest childhood memories?

PB: I would say probably playing with my cousins and my friends, but my cousins in particular. I really enjoyed growing up around family and I would say that’s true of my grandparents as well. I lived two blocks from where my mother grew up, so the fact that I could walk down to my grandparents’ house and enjoy their company and their love pretty much any time I wanted, as well as that of my cousins and aunts and uncles. Being surrounded by family absolutely are my fondest memories.

Who is your biggest inspiration? Who are your heroes?

PB: I would say my biggest inspiration was seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (Feb 1964). That also ties in to my hero which was almost at the exact same time, hearing the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have a Dream Speech” (Aug 1963). Those two events, The Beatles and the effect they had on music and the time, growing up with them and through them in the 1960’s and then watching the Civil Rights movement and the effect that a few people could have on an entire evolution in social understanding and development was extraordinary.

What is it like knowing some of the most influential people of our time? What have you learned by knowing them?

PB: It is an extraordinary honor to be in a position where I can meet some of these people and have conversations with them. What I have learned is that they are people, too. We are all very much the same. There is a particular drive and quality of care for humanity in so many of the influential leaders that I’ve met and the extraordinary amount of energy they get from being engaged in life and feeling that they can actually make a difference. It’s wonderful to see people that I’ve met that are motivated not by power and influence really, but by what that power and influence can do for the betterment of society. That is a wonderful thing to see.

What places have you traveled to where people seem happiest? Why do you think this is?

PB: It’s fascinating really, because when I go to places like Bangladesh or some of the more undeveloped parts of India and China, but specifically places like Bangladesh, Liberia and other places in Africa and Asia that we consider impoverished, in many ways the people seem quite, I would not say happy so much, as resilient and dedicated to making every day a better day. It’s sort of funny to say this, but there is truth to it, that in the poorest areas of the world people wear the brightest colors. If you go to Bangladesh, if you go to Africa, India, you see these beautiful, vibrant colors on the people and you go to New York and everyone is wearing black. There is something to that, you know, when you are chasing after all these material things and all these outside things to make you happy — I think it can be overwhelming and become a burden in some ways. Whereas, if you are living in a subsistence way, while I would never want to say that is preferable, I will say that what it creates in people is a resiliency and a spirit that is extraordinary and it is humbling to say the least, to see people that have such spirit and such resolve in places that most people in developed countries could never imagine living.

You are currently on the road doing “Concert and Conversation” — what interesting things have you learned from audience participation?

PB: Well, I guess it’s that so many of the questions and curiosities are so similar. There is such an interest in how I grew up, my father’s influence and how to find happiness and fulfillment. Of course that gets back to the idea that we are all searching for the same fundamental things. We want the same things for our children and the same things for ourselves. It’s interesting in these times to see politicians and corporate interests fighting over control and domination when most people in their own lives just want the very fundamental things of safety, security and fulfillment. Of course, that looks different for many people, but I think you break it down and there are more similarities than differences. That’s what I have learn by being on the road. I could be at Morehouse College in Atlanta or Peking University in Beijing and so many of the questions are similar. It is wonderful to see and I only wish that in the governmental world, wherever in the world that may be, they could reach the same sort of consensus about what is important and how we can get there.

It’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does help once you’ve found your happiness. What’s the best advice you have for kids to start saving money early?

PB: First of all it’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness, but paying the rent and putting food on the table is critical. The best advice is not to fall into the trap that in fact money does buy happiness. Or more specifically, that things buy happiness. We are, and kids in particular are bombarded with the outside influence of “this will make you happy; this is going to be more fun; this is gonna whatever…”. Especially kids, because corporations know that once kids get attached to a brand, they follow that brand through their whole lives. So they are absolutely trying to get “sticky” with their brand and make sure these kids follow it as they get older. So the battle really for kids is to ignore as much of that as possible, put some money in the bank and focus on necessities they will need later in life. This is certainly what I did when I started out in the music business. I ate a lot of the same sandwiches at home and I didn’t buy much, other than a little bit of recording equipment to get myself started. I think it is critical to really focus on your inner self and not all the noise, all the messages coming in from the outside world telling you that there are a variety of things that you can buy to be happier and more fulfilled.


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