Go Ahead, Covet Your Neighbor's Wife

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I had a deep, existential, meaning-of-life type of conversation with a friend of mine, another value investor. I asked him, do you want Warren Buffett’s success?

He was somewhat stunned by the question, and asked: “Is that a rhetorical question?”

It was not.

I told him about a nugget of Jewish wisdom my wife shared with me. But first, let’s revisit one of the Ten Commandments: Don’t covet. Or more precisely, don’t covet your neighbor’s wife. To be even more precise, I am not talking about outright adultery here, but rather about thoughts you may have about the desirability of your neighbor’s wife. And to make it even clearer: not my neighbor’s wife (I don’t want my neighbor reading this and getting any ideas).

Here is that practical Jewish wisdom (severely paraphrased by me). Go ahead and covet your neighbor’s wife, but don’t just covet her beautiful eyes, her soft voice, and her stunning figure. Covet her in her entirety. Don’t forget about her mother who would insist you kiss her on the lips every time you see her and who loves to dispense unlimited quantities of unsolicited advice. Or her brother who needs to get bailed of jail every other week. Don’t forget about the hours that neighbor’s wife spends in front of the mirror (forgetting about her hubby and the kids) and her weekly shopping and spa trips that would empty your bank account in a New York second.

Covet away! But covet the whole package. The antidote to coveting is holistic coveting.

When you covet Buffett’s success, do it holistically, too. Not just the empire he built and the billions he accumulated (that he’ll give away anyway) but the life he led. When I read Alice Schroeder’s The Snowball, the main point I got out of the book was not to be like Buffett. I was lucky I read it when my kids were still young. Buffett’s obsession with the stock market was anything but healthy. He got tomorrow’s newspaper delivered to him the evening before. He spent every living moment in his study, completely neglecting his wife and children. His wife, the love of his life, could not take this anymore and left him. So, do you still covet what Buffett has?