Peter Buffett is a musician, the author of Life is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment, and a philanthropist who supports empowering girls and women around the world. We asked him what inspired his book about defining success and why educating girls is so important to him.
Q: What inspired you to write your book?
A: I was asked to speak to clients of a bank about how to raise your kids. I became sort of exhibit A of a kid that had their own life and had a famous father [investor Warren Buffett].
Somebody saw it and then I developed it into a show about growing up. And somebody saw that and said, “That’s a book.”
So, I started just by telling my story, recognizing that it might have some value, and then really digging deeper into it and other people’s stories. I realized this wasn’t just for wealthy people; the lessons and values were for everybody.
I grew up like most people, and that’s what people sort of didn’t believe. They wanted to believe that because my father was wealthy I had all this privilege, but the privilege was from having the parents I had and how they raised me.
Q: Where did your passion come from to support and empower underserved girls and organizations that help them?
A: Well, it really came from growing up with parents that believed in the dignity of every human being, the possibility of every human being, and wanting to make a more equal and just world. And when you look at the world at large you see that it’s not giving women, and in particular girls, the ability and chance and support to succeed.
So we thought supporting girls and women was a fantastic way to change the world. Because we found, you know, you can look at health and education, poverty, the environment, all these issues that need addressing. When you do invest in a girl, she’s going to change all those things. It’s because if she’s supported she’ll put it back into her family. And they’re going to be healthier and better educated.
Over and over again we kept getting the evidence that supporting girls would create the kind of world that we would like to see. And I say ‘we’ because my wife, Jennifer and I, do this together.
Q:You mention how fortunate you were to have such great parents, and your mom is a huge presence in this book. How did she inspire you?
A: My mother loved what she did every day, and that not only raising us, but reaching out to people who were different than us.
So I would walk home from grade school and there would be somebody at the table from the other side of town, or the other side of the world, but you could bet that they didn’t look like me. And when I would hear her ask these questions, and learn these stories — and really listen— I really saw that everyone has something to teach. She taught me how to listen and how to ask questions in an engaging and authentic way — to really learn.
You also write about how people trying to make their way in the world can find success. What advice do you have for girls?
It’s such a big question. Every story and every person is different. The book is meant to be my story and other people’s stories as a guidepost to find your own story.
For instance, in today’s society, people think that if they have a good paying job, that’s a step toward success. Security is incredibly important, and it’s the first step to being able to do anything, but if I, for instance, set out on my path to be a musician and said, “The only way I’m going to be successful is if I have a hit record, or if I make X amount of dollars, or if I do this or that,” that would have limited the possibilities.
I think broadening your definition of success is critical. Another example is if someone wants to be a dancer, and realizes as she gets older that she may not be quite good enough, or that it’s not pragmatic for other goals. But that doesn’t mean that she can’t still be fulfilled in some way around that art. You can be an accountant for a dance company. You can still be around it every day. You can still feel that feeling of supporting the thing you love the most.
Ultimately, the bottom line is getting up in the morning and being excited about it, whatever it is.
Q: What can girls can to empower themselves and other girls?
A: Connect to other girls. The first step is to feel safe and supported. The number one thing is to be with other girls and to start to talk about what it is that you dream of, and believe in, and what you know, and what affects you. Because that starts to knit the community together, you start to feel the support, you start to share ideas around just about everything.
Q: What makes a girl strong, smart and bold?
A: It starts with really knowing who you are. I think strong, smart and bold has its roots in safety and security. And I don’t mean just safety from the outside world, I mean being in a supportive place where you can become strong.
I think real boldness comes from connecting to your heart and then using your mind to act. And smartness - it’s not just brain power. It’s being not who you think you should be, or who somebody else thinks you should be, or what society says you should be.
To really lead with your heart, and your emotions, and your gut, and then use your brain to turn that into action is how you end up strong, smart, and bold. It’s so important for girls to step up and out of other people’s expectations.