Life’s Lessons from Wall Street (Not a Joke!)

The husband passed along a document that came to him from a colleague at his firm. He thought (correctly) that it would be “up my alley”. I think it will be up yours, as well. Byron Wien is Vice Chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners LP. He was asked to share some of his life’s lessons at an investment conference recently and has since shared his comments more broadly. He is 80 years old and is still working (that may be one lesson that does not resonate for me, but it works for him!)

lesson learnedLife’s Lessons by Byron Wien
“Here are some of the lessons I have learned in my first 80 years. I hope to continue to practice them in the next 80.

1. Concentrate on finding a big idea that will make an impact on the people you want to influence. The Ten Surprises, which I started doing in 1986, has been a defining product. People all over the world are aware of it and identify me with it. What they seem to like about it is that I put myself at risk by going on record with these events which I believe are probable and hold myself accountable at year-end. If you want to be successful and live a long, stimulating life, keep yourself at risk intellectually all the time.

2. Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible. Nurture your network by sending articles, books and emails to people to show you’re thinking about them. Write op-eds and thought pieces for major publications. Organize discussion groups to bring your thoughtful friends together.

3. When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. Assume he or she is a winner and will become a positive force in your life. Most people wait for others to prove their value. Give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. Occasionally you will be disappointed, but your network will broaden rapidly if you follow this path.

4. Read all the time. Don’t just do it because you’re curious about something, read actively. Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author. If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.

5. Get enough sleep. Seven hours will do until you’re sixty, eight from sixty to seventy, nine thereafter, which might include eight hours at night and a one-hour afternoon nap.

6. Evolve. Try to think of your life in phases so you can avoid a burn-out. Do the numbers crunching in the early phase of your career. Try developing concepts later on. Stay at risk throughout the process.

7. Travel extensively. Try to get everywhere before you wear out. Attempt to meet local interesting people where you travel and keep in contact with them throughout your life. See them when you return to a place.

8. When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen. It is my belief that some important event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.

9. On philanthropy my approach is to try to relieve pain rather than spread joy. Music, theatre and art museums have many affluent supporters, give the best parties and can add to your social luster in a community. They don’t need you. Social service, hospitals and educational institutions can make the world a better place and help the disadvantaged make their way toward the American dream.

10. Younger people are naturally insecure and tend to overplay their accomplishments. Most people don’t become comfortable with who they are until they’re in their 40’s. By that time they can underplay their achievements and become a nicer, more likeable person. Try to get to that point as soon as you can.

11. Take the time to give those who work for you a pat on the back when they do good work. Most people are so focused on the next challenge that they fail to thank the people who support them. It is important to do this. It motivates and inspires people and encourages them to perform at a higher level.

12. When someone extends a kindness to you write them a handwritten note, not an e-mail. Handwritten notes make an impact and are not quickly forgotten.

13. At the beginning of every year think of ways you can do your job better than you have ever done it before. Write them down and look at what you have set out for yourself when the year is over.

14. Never retire. If you work forever, you can live forever. I know there is an abundance of biological evidence against this theory, but I’m going with it anyway.”

Great lessons to think about and pass along. These really resonate with me – especially #3, #7, #11. I aspire to do #1! Which of these speak to you?

PS. I also enjoyed Rob Pollack’s humorous (and true) 35 Life Lessons I Learned Before Turning 35 on Elephant Journal.



  1. Cristina says:

    LOVE this! I have a few stories about a few of these that I will share with you over lunch tomorrow. Interesting how true these are.

  2. Chesley says:

    This is perfect. I was just looking for more running mantras!

  3. Diane says:

    #5 – I find so many more happy people are ones who say they get enough sleep than those who don’t. Maybe that’s why the dog is so happy all the time!

  4. marie wickham says:

    What a great list Erica. Thanks for sharing. I love that he focusses on “living” fully and not on “working”. Long live the handwritten note.

  5. Libbie Agran says:

    I think # 3 has been a major key to my success an happiness in life. Stepping directly into a new relationship with friendship has brought me a variety of friends that have greatly enriched my life and provided me with some wonderful experiences. But I do not agree with never retire. I love retirement – I have the ime to pursue some very meaningful things in philanthropy and with the Global Fund for Women.

  6. Lisa says:

    My grandfather, who lived to 90, would have agreed with #14 — I firmly believe he expected he would live forever, as long as he had real estate deals pending and a stock portfolio to keep an eye on!

  7. Maggie says:

    This is awesome, thanks for sharing! I especially like #3 – treat everyone new as a friend. That’s a great way to go through life. Also, I’m conflicted on #9 – I work in healthcare, and have supported the American Cancer Society, so I definitely agree with this in principle, but I also worry about what the world would be like if we didn’t continue to support the arts. I know those orgs struggle as well. It’s all about balance I guess.

    • Erica A says:

      Maggie – I absolutely agree on #9. I think arts organizations really struggle and provide many benefits to the local community. I agree on balance.

  8. Christine says:

    Byron Wein , a long standing morgan guy – finally hits the big time ; ) ( makes me chuckle to see him on your page)

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