My Indispensable Guide to College

Sep 28, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The last name "Buffett" often comes with assumptions -- private school, car and driver, and all sorts of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" images. They happen to be wildly inaccurate. So now I'd like to inject a bit of reality into my surname in the hope that today's collegians gain something in the process.

As I entered college I recognized that it was a time that would never come again -- a time to explore new ideas and learn more about myself and the world around me. I took any course that ended in --101 or -ology. I wanted the road to rise up to meet me; to reveal itself as I went. I paid attention and listened to my own inner voice: Is this something exciting to learn? Is this feeding my soul? Is this really me, or am I pretending for the sake of something or someone else? These questions led me to hone in on my true nature. This leads us to our first collegiate rule of thumb.

Learn Outside the Classroom

Whether this is your freshman year or you are approaching the finish line known as commencement, learning never stops. Yes, you learn from lectures and textbooks, but perhaps the most important lessons come from unexpected places. These are the beliefs held or lost, the experiences garnered, and the insights you develop as you grow older and (hopefully) wiser.

All lessons ultimately lead to choices about the future. Will you follow a well-worn path, one that may provide security or prestige? Or will you take Robert Frost's "road less traveled by"?

Look for a Calling, Not a Job

An assumption that often precedes me is that my father is disappointed that I pursued a living composing music. Nothing could be further from the truth. The message from my parents was -- find something in life that you are truly passionate about. Everything else will follow.

Actually, my father and I do the same thing. Something we love. And it wasn't just my parent's words that gave me the freedom to find my own path to fulfillment, it was their actions. I saw my dad do what he loved every day (and he still does), as he drives himself to the same office I remember as a child. He never simply pursued wealth or accumulated things to make himself feel "complete."

Self-Respect Shows Your True Worth

People assume that I have vast sums of money in an inherited trust. But the only valuable inheritance is self-respect, and that has to be earned. Only through the experience of trying, falling down, getting up, learning and trying again can you truly build self-esteem. You're building it - piece by piece. In fact, my greatest inheritance was growing up in a safe and loving household. Privilege to me was the unconditional love that came from parents, grandparents and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins..

Be Mindful of Your Choices

My parents taught me that I could be anything--but not do anything -- that I pleased, because actions matter and they have an impact, often difficult to see initially. As I entered college, their words no longer sounded like platitudes, they became very real. I was on my own. For the first time, my choices were going to have a direct impact on myself and my future. I was no longer in the safety of my parents' home.

By assessing the choices I was making, I began to determine my place in the world. I was finding myself, my "bliss," my unique path.

The Final Measure of Fulfillment

While a safe approach to life may seem the prudent way to go -- especially in these difficult times -- there is one fundamental measure of success that trumps all others. It's very simple, really. If you look forward to getting up every day (or at least most days... and early classes don't count!)? Then you are living a successful life.

You are not living a life that anyone or any advertisement, movie or magazine has told you to live. You are living the life you are choosing. This doesn't mean you have to pursue something counter-culture or be rebellious. It just means that you want to bring whatever is your unique gift to the world.

Use Time Wisely

To help find this gift, use the most valuable thing that college gives you: Time. Explore and learn and grow -- inside the classroom and out.

The Result

As graduates, you will have the opportunity to create the world anew. Place the just and authentic values of love and understanding at the forefront of your lives. Let your success be defined by achievement in the area of your choice. Your example will create an environment that is truly sustainable, onto more than your own generation. American Indians tell us that the repercussions of our actions will ripple through seven generations! That's a lot of tweets from now.