By Tim Saunders on
LookToTheStars.org recently talked exclusively with composer, producer and philanthropist Peter Buffett about his book, Life Is What You Make It, finding your own path to fulfillment and growing up in a famous household.
You’re Warren Buffett’s Son!
Life rarely follows a straight line, and Peter Buffett should know – he may be the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, but this doesn’t mean he has led a sheltered life free from mistakes.
Known for his style of new age music, Peter has forged his own path in life. With a father who believes that “a silver spoon in the mouth often becomes a silver dagger in the back”, he received his inheritance when he turned 19. And with a bunch of shares totaling roughly $90,000, Peter stepped forward to make a life for himself, which he chronicles in his book, Life Is What You Make It.
“I never expected to write a book, but I realized that just by telling the story of how I grew up, it helped people understand what success and privileges really mean,” Peter told Look To The Stars. “I had a simple and wonderful childhood that had nothing to do with what people might expect, given who my father is. I really wrote it because people would come up to me and say ’You’re Warren Buffett’s son – but you’re so normal.’ And I thought that was very nice, but of course I’m normal!”
Life I What You Make It has captured the attention of many of the world’s movers and shakers – with Bill Gates and Bill Clinton both saying it is required reading – and has gained the respect of Bono, Ted Turner and Eve Ensler.
“I tried to make the book relatively simple, more like a conversation. I find that has helped with school kids and college kids who read it. I was hoping to write something that would be easy and fun to read.”
Inspiring Through Music
From a career that started with writing jingles on MTV and took off with a soundtrack credit on Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves, Peter has released a myriad of albums that have achieved worldwide success. He scored Costner’s Emmy Award-winning miniseries 500 Nations, as well as the massive musical production of The Seventh Fire, which premiered on the National Mall as part of the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. In 2009, he joined forces with hip hop star Akon to write a song for the Commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and in 2010 he teamed up with Angélique Kidjo for a song to benefit the Batonga Foundation, an organization founded by Angelique to advance education for girls in Africa.
“I went Liberia and found out what was going on over there and it changed my life forever,” said Peter, explaining how the collaboration with Akon came about. “When you go to a place, see the people who are there, talk to the people who are there, see their resilience – it profoundly affects you. So I came home and I wrote a song based on my experiences.”
A mutual friend introduced Peter to Akon, who heard the song and wanted to team up.
“This is a lesson to all you aspiring musicians and composers out there – I didn’t say I want to work with Akon just because I wanted work with some big star. He heard the authenticity in the music, he heard that I was singing from a place of experience, and that’s why he wanted to do it with me. He saw that this was a song that mattered and could make a difference.”
For Peter, music was a calling he simply couldn’t ignore, and he sees art as playing an important role in inspiring people to help others and make the world a better place.
“Art has historically always shown the need for change, the possibility of change – all the things we really need in order to evolve and move forward. And music has specifically always been a way to connect people to people. I’m still amazed at how music can be so transforming – because it goes beyond words. It is literally vibrations – sound waves that reach you in a way that words and images just can’t. It is a very unique form of art, and holds a lot of power.”
Life Is What You Make It
And now Peter has found another way of inspiring people with his book Life Is What You Make It, a very personal account about living your life to the fullest and finding your passion. It touches on the conundrums of privilege, leads the reader through Peter’s views on work ethics and the pitfalls of searching for a true vocation, and explores some of the advice – and myths – that we are fed by our teachers and families about making our mark on the world. It reminds us that society sometimes shuts the doors of opportunity on those who could shine, and that life isn’t always fair.
Writing the book allowed Peter the opportunity to look inwards and learn a few truths about himself: “I realized that privilege to me was having loving parents, a safe household, and all the kind of things that really mean something, as opposed to going out and buying a whole heap of stuff just to make yourself feel better.”
In Life Is What You Make It, Peter airs his views on success and the perils of prosperity, as well as what he calls the gentle art of giving back. He explores his experiences of growing up in the Buffett family, and the ways he was influenced by both his mother and father.
“[My mother] was hugely influential, and the book really gave me the opportunity to talk about her. Everybody knows about my dad and talks about my dad, and its another great example of the world we live in – the teacher never gets the credit they deserve, but they do so much to create possibilities for kids. Both my parents were showing me things rather than telling me things, I just saw my parents behaving in certain ways.
“[My mother] taught me that if you listen, you can really learn a lot from other people. My mother was extraordinary in that way. And what I saw with my dad was this consistent love of what he was doing. At 81-years-old he still drives himself to the same office, does the same thing he did when I was five – and he loves it! And that’s what I saw. He first and foremost was doing it because he loved doing it. I saw him very methodically just keeping at it, and he has reaped the rewards – I’m not just talking just monetary, but also the respect of his peers and people around the world. Because he’s just put one foot in front of the other and done his thing. When I got into music, I didn’t think ‘I gotta be a pop star, I gotta be famous, I gotta sell a million records’ – I just thought I want to be doing this every day, and I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other and do my best so I can keep doing it. And that’s a huge lesson I really observed from my dad, just by seeing it.”
His parent’s influences and a desire to make the world a better place led Peter to set up his own charity, the NoVo Foundation, which aims to empower women and girls around the world and “embolden a positive vision of a more peaceful and safe world free from exploitation, destruction and violence”.
“I always had it around me that it was important to give back in some way,” explained Peter. “The meaning of the word philanthropy is the love of people. It is not about money, it is about relationships and what you can do to make someone else’s life more their own. Its not about saving people, its about allowing people to become who they really are in whatever way you can. When my dad famously decided to give all his money away in 2006, part of that process was to give myself and my brother and sister large foundations to help other people. And that really catapulted my wife and I into a position of philanthropy that we hadn’t been in before – it was pretty extraordinary.”
Peter’s father read the book before it was published. His mother passed away in 2004.
“Rarely do kids get to put in writing the experiences they had and the lessons they learned growing up – [Dad] loved it. He enjoyed it because it showed him things he didn’t even realize had much of an impact on my life. Even more importantly, he could see [my mother’s] influence and how important she was.”
Ultimately, the book poses the question of choosing the path of least resistance or the path of greatest satisfaction.
“I think we get so caught up in doing things regardless of what it might do to something else, as opposed just being true to ourselves and being our authentic selves. It changes the whole way we walk in the world, because you’re not out there forever doing things and pushing things, you’re just being who you are. And that’s the real essence of the book.”
A Concert And Conversation
Peter is currently taking his experiences on the road, with a series of events dubbed A Concert and Conversation with Peter Buffett. He combines multimedia and personal stories with a cello-accompanied live piano/vocal performance, to give the audience an authentic, inspirational and impactful evening.
“It is so important for us in life to really follow where things lead, as opposed to always wanting to push and make things happen. I’ve had so much fun, because I was never a performer before this, I was always just in the studio doing my thing. But over the last couple of years I’ve been all over the country performing and speaking – and that’s the key for me with show, it is in fact a conversation and concert. I play, I speak, I show old pictures of growing up, little videos of old commercials I’ve done, but I take questions throughout the whole show. Anybody can ask me anything at any time. That makes it really fun for me, because every show is a little different. And I think it makes it a lot of fun for the audience.”
It can sometimes be a challenge to appear in front of a live audience and answer different questions at every show, but as Peter explains, the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“My dad has this famous shareholders meeting in Omaha every year, and it has got to the point where 30,000 people turn up to this thing. And the reason it is so popular is that my dad does what he has to do for the company – he has about 20 minutes of business – and then he is up there for 6 hours answering questions from the audience. And they can be questions about anything – they can be relationship advice, or about investments or anything. I think it is important for people to show that they are real, vulnerable and open – it changes the whole atmosphere when you just open yourself up that way.”
The organic nature of the show allows Peter to be flexible, and he is constantly adding new elements.
“One of the latest things I’ve added just recently is a copy of my dad’s report card from junior high. It is a terrible report card. You would think that he was going to go nowhere and amount to nothing if you read it. So I use it as an example that if you believe in yourself and you keep trying, then it is amazing what you can do.”
Recently, Peter’s Concert and Conversation evenings have been raising money for Ora’s Alliance – a non-profit organization committed to building public awareness of kidney diseases – and the American Kidney Fund.
“I love it that my music can be connected to something. I’ve always liked music to do something. When I can attach the show to helping to raise awareness or funds for something, then that’s even better. What will happen is, an organization will either hear about the show, or maybe somebody’s seen the show, and will say ‘Hey, will you do something here for this cause’. And I love doing that.”
Peter says that he has performed the show in a variety of places in front of a plethora of audiences – including an all African-American audience in Detroit, a group of wealthy philanthropists in Las Vegas, a private girls’ school in Toronto, Peking University in China – and its the same response everywhere he goes.
“The most meaningful thing for me is to see that if you show up and you tell your story – and you’re honest and authentic and open – then everybody responds to that. It doesn’t matter who it is. And I think that is all I’m trying to do – set an example of that behavior. Just showing up and being true to who you are. And the fact that I’ve been able to play for all these audiences and reflect that back to them and see that it actually works has been just tremendously satisfying.”
Peter Buffett is living proof that Life Is What You Make It. His book and concerts give people the opportunity to learn about forging your own path in life, taking the rains of destiny and following your passion.
Copyright © 2012 Look to the Stars