Charlie Munger's 3 Categories of Investment: In, Out & Too Tough

14. If You Think Your Life Is Tough, What Should You Do To Win?

Excellent Book: Charlie Munger For All Seasons

Life is not meant to be easy. If it is too easy, it is not going to be very meaningful. Can you imagine a life without any problems whatsoever? Dead men have got no problems, so go figure.

And often when we are in a difficult situation, it is not just one problem that’s troubling us but a myriad of problems. In Hamlet, Shakespeare said it beautifully: “When sorrows come, they come ot single spies but in battalions.”

And there is the old saying to the effect that “trouble comes in threes”. It is very old and hence determining its origin is going to be tough. So, for now, I’ll pool this in Charlie Munger’s proverbial “too difficult” box. For example, the advertisement industry lamented the proximity of the deaths of the icons: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon. Historians referred to the three cruel figures of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Also, you are not supposed to light three cigarettes at one go. The story goes that during the first or second world war, a soldier lighted up three cigarettes and a sniper was alerted to it and kaboom.
There’s an unconfirmed story along this narrative. A caveman was trying to do very simple mathematics. So he went, one divided by one equals one and one divided by two equals half. One divided by three equals 0.333333333 … and after three days of hard work, it was still going on. So the caveman said: “This is trouble.”

Most of us like to think that we had it tough. Yeah, I had it tougher than you, now can I sulk? Well then, read what Charlie Munger had gone through at one stage.


“Charlie Munger did not get to complete his first degree because of the war. In 1949, Charlie Munger was 25 years old when he was hired at the law firm of Wright & Garrett for $3,300 per year, or $29,851 in inflation-adjusted dollars as of 2010. He had $1,500 in savings, equal to $13,570 now.

A few years later, in 1953, Charlie was 29 years old when he and his wife divorced.  He had been married since he was 21.  Charlie lost everything in the divorce, his wife keeping the family home in South Pasadena. Munger moved into “dreadful” conditions at the University Club and drove a terrible yellow Pontiac, which his children said had a horrible paint job. According to the biography written by Janet Lowe, Molly Munger asked her father, “Daddy, this car is just awful, a mess.  Why do you drive it?”  The broke Munger replied: “To discourage gold diggers.”

Shortly after the divorce, Charlie learned that his son, Teddy, had leukemia. In those days, there was no health insurance, you just paid everything out of pocket and the death rate was near 100% since there was nothing doctors could do. Rick Guerin, Charlie’s friend, said Munger would go into the hospital, hold his young son, and then walk the streets of Pasadena crying.

One year after the diagnosis, in 1955, Teddy Munger died.  Charlie was 31 years old, divorced, broke, and burying his 9 year old son.  Later in life, he faced a horrific operation that left him blind in one eye with pain so terrible that he eventually had his eye removed.

It’s a fair bet that your present troubles pale in comparison.  Whatever it is, get over it.  Start over.  He did it.  You can, too.”

Say it outloud. “Well, you bet. I can too.” That’s what I believe Charlie Munger would encourage you to do. And how do you win against all your troubles and problems which I guarantee will come your way?
Well, I’ll share with you the quintessentially brilliant Charlie Munger quote:

“Assume life will be really tough, and then ask if you can handle it. If the answer is yes, you’ve won.”