Tone down the “noise,” hike up the “signal!” – This simple analogy of life decisions was Peter Andrew Buffett’s message in his visit to Fresno last Saturday.
It is simple yet significant advice that Buffett gave: “Noise” representing the demands of society and “signal” as the truth in ourselves.
“In a recording business, in the business that I do, there’s something that’s called the ‘signal-to-noise ratio’ where you want a very strong signal,” Buffett said. “Like someone singing, for instance, you want very little noise – the traffic going by or the background noise. So it’s strong signals and low noise.
“In life, the ‘noise’ is the outside life telling you what you should be, who you should be and the ‘signal’ is your own true-self because that is who you really are. People telling you what to look like or how to act, that’s all just really just noise in your life.”
Buffett urged that, although it is indeed hard to remember to be true to oneself, everyone should recall that it is one of the most important aspects in life.
Buffett, 54, is the youngest son of billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett. Growing up in the agriculture town of Omaha, Neb. Buffett and his two older siblings, Susie and Howard, led a very typical childhood life despite their father’s celebrity.
“We were just playing in the neighborhood,” he said. “It was very simple. I had friends in the neighborhood and riding bikes and running around in the backyard. You know, simple stuff.”
He was a quiet child who liked to keep to himself and play the piano, unlike his older brother who would put on a gorilla mask and run about the neighborhood.
As a child, Buffett did not see father as anything but a typical dad.
“It was just growing up with my mom and my dad,” he said. “My dad still lives in that house we grew up in. There’s no fence around the house or anything, so when we were kids we didn’t know – first of all, my father wasn’t famous [at that time] – and we didn’t know he was making a lot of money because that was never why he worked so hard.
“He loved what he did. He loved his work,” he said. “So I just grew up with a dad who loved going to work in the morning and come home for dinner at night.”
Peter Buffet is widely known as an Emmy Award-winning composer and a New York Times best-selling author.
Visiting Fresno as part of his “Concert and Conversation Tour” and in support of art education in Fresno, he was amazed at how excited the younger generations in Fresno are about life, he said. It was truly memorable for him to be able to interact with them.
“All these kids from different ages, talking about their dreams and being excited about their life or being frustrated by certain things, trying to figure out how to go from where they are to where they want to go,” he said.
Buffett pointed out that arts should not be taken for granted.
“It’s not just some add-on thing after school, but it’s part of getting kids excited about school, feel that they are connected to something that makes them feel good,” he said.
For his tour, Buffett explained the focus of his talk about life philosophies and lessons. Two main philosophies that Buffett learned from his parents, especially his father, was “forge your own path” and the “circle of competence.”
Buffett explained that it is vital for him and many others to stay true to themselves.
“I was very lucky to have parents that knew that happiness really came through being who you are – being true to whom you are and finding your own path in life,” he said. “So they didn’t expect me to do what my father did or do something they thought was right for me. They wanted me to do something right for myself.
“I got into the music business, and film and all those things. That was really because my parents were very supportive of me becoming myself and also, I didn’t put expectations on having a lot of money, [or] on being famous. It was being happy. That was the most important thing.”
“[My] dad always said ‘circle of competence.’ The things he knows he does well and not have to go outside of that. In other words, for me, when I worked in music, I don’t try and do things I’m not so sure I can.
“For example, somebody says, ‘Oh, there’s this opportunity for you,’ and I feel like ‘you know, that’s not what I’m very best at.’ Even if it would pay a lot of money or be a very popular thing to do, if it’s not right for me, I won’t do it.”
However, Buffett asserts that it does not mean one should stay too safe.
“I do think it’s really important for you to stretch your boundaries and do new things,” he said. “So it’s not like you just want to be safe all the time. You want to be smart about your choices, really.”
Buffett believes that being smart about choices means to learn from mistakes.
“First you learn more about yourself and what’s right for you,” he explained. “When you’re 25 or you’re 35, you’re not always going to make the right choices about things because you have to learn about yourself sometimes by making the wrong choices.
“So I think the most important thing is, whatever choice you make, learning from that act. Looking back and going, ‘OK, that was a good choice. Here’s why,’ and, ‘That was a bad choice and here’s what I’ve learned from it,’ and not just blaming other people, but, ‘What role did I play in something ending up in a bad choice.’”
Buffett’s “Concert and Conversation Tour” has been well received throughout the United States, Canada and China. People not only came because he was talking about his book, “Life Is What You Make It,” but they also came because it was such an unusual and intimate experience with Buffett himself.
“I wanted to try to do something different because I like doing creative things,” Buffett said about his tour’s concept. “I want to create a show that was not just a typical speech and not just a typical concert that all I do is play. I wanted to do something that would bring the book to life where I would tell stories, I would play music, I would show pictures and images. But then, even with that, I didn’t like the idea of just being on stage and talking at people. I want to talk with people and hear what people were curious about and open up more of a conversation. That’s why it’s called the ‘Concert and Conversation.’”
Another topic that Buffett discussed was the lesson, “finding your own path to fulfillment.” He used another analogy, of waking up in the morning and finding yourself looking forward to your day.
“When you open your eyes in the morning, you go, ‘OK,’ and that doesn’t mean every day’s a happy day and perfect, I think challenging things are part of life and make life more interesting. But generally speaking, if you wake up and want to jump out of bed, it’s a pretty good sign.”
Buffett added that without trials and tribulations in life, there is nothing to learn and life would be too dull. It is indeed hard, even for himself, to pave his own way in his life, for his future.
The element that gave his strength was sheer self-confidence and learned wisdom.
“I’ve made certain choices in my life where it is not a typical choice,” he said in regard to him turning down opportunities in Hollywood. “Really sticking to what I’ve felt was right for me – that in a personal way can be very difficult because people were saying, ‘No, you should be this.’ I’ve also just done things weren’t smart in terms of buying a house that was too expensive and I had mortgages to pay. I had my own ups and downs with my business and my choices in life like everyone does.
“The key for all those things is, ‘How did I get myself into this, and how do I get out and how do I take responsibility for my role in making a decision?’ I think that’s important for people, to look at some situation they get into, and not be hard on themselves, ‘Oh my God, this is so dumb,’ but say, ‘OK, how did this happen? Why did I think this was a good idea and how did I make sure this doesn’t happen again.’ So then, instead of a bad mistake, it’s a way to learn.”
Buffett loves music, so that was what he succeeded at. But what came as a surprise was his decision to write a book.
“People felt it was an interesting story given who my father became,” he said. “My story would not be interesting to people if my father wasn’t Warren Buffett. I learned that my story might be helpful to people because it might change the idea of wealth and success.”
When someone suggested that Buffett write a book, he immediately set out and took on the challenge.
“That was never something I set out to do, and I would say the reason that it was successful is because I was honest and authentic about telling the story,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to say, ‘Look at me. Look at my life.’ I’m just saying, ‘Here’s my story.’ That’s all there is. I’m not giving you my advice, I’m just telling you my experience, and if that’s helpful and valuable in some way, that’s wonderful.”
Buffett concluded by saying that everything falls back to doing what you love.
“It really does get back to listening to your own heart, paying attention to the things that get you excited,” he said.