Personal Development

The Best Real Estate Investors Are Like a River (Not a Swamp)—Here’s What I Mean

Expertise: Personal Development, Commercial Real Estate, Real Estate News & Commentary, Landlording & Rental Properties
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mountain river with stones on the shore in the forest near the mountain slope in sunset light

Are you a river… or a swamp?

That’s a strange question for me to ask. But your answer could play a role in determining your destiny.

Entrepreneur and author Darren Hardy asked this question in a recent daily motivational update. Entering a new year and a new decade, I thought it would be a great time to reflect and see where we all are on this.

What Are the Qualities of a River?

A river abounds with life. It is always moving. There is always action and forward progress. Rivers support industry, trade, travel, and communities.

Have you noticed that most of the major cities of the world are located at ports or on rivers?

I recently visited Minneapolis. My friend, BiggerPockets member, and fellow real estate investor Eric Eickhof gave me a tour of the city. Eric told me that Minneapolis was once the grain capital of the world. He showed me the massive grain silos near the University of Minnesota campus. He told me that grain was delivered from all over the Midwest to Minneapolis, where it was shipped down the Mississippi River.

I hadn’t thought of Minneapolis when I thought of the Mississippi River. But of course, he was right. The Mississippi, like all rivers, flows from high ground in the Northern U.S. to lower ground in the South and on into the Gulf of Mexico.

What Are the Qualities of a Swamp?

Swamps stink. Have you been to one?

The mud reeks. The air reeks. Swamps exist in the lowest geologic locations. They are the home of mosquitoes, sludge, and death.

They are unpleasant places, and virtually no one would choose to build a city there. I don’t know of a major city built by a swamp. Swamps lack fresh water input… and they don’t produce fresh water to locations downstream.

Panoramic view of a misty swamp in the forest with copy space

How Do Rivers and Swamps Relate to Real Estate

What does this have to do with real estate investing? I’m glad you asked.


I’m writing to encourage you to be like a river in the BiggerPockets community. Rivers receive fresh input from higher ground. As a river, you will always be seeking new knowledge, fresh information, and more training. You will consider yourself a lifelong learner—never an expert, always a novice.

And you will be benevolent with others. You won’t just hoard what you’ve learned; you’ll be a resource for other learners. There are thousands of forum posts on BiggerP0ckets. And opportunities to comment on blog posts. And regional/local meetups with people who are hungry for the information and experience you have.

There has never been a time when people are more eager to attain good information on real estate investing. Or a time when over-priced information and misinformation abounds. The popularity of house-flipping shows and pricey guru seminars testifies to this.

Related: Pushing Back Against the Gurus (& Why It’s So Important)

BiggerPockets is a vault of real information on real estate investing. The explosive growth of BiggerPockets is a testament to this. We are over 1.6 million strong now!

You can make a wonderful impact on someone else’s life. And it won’t hurt your life in the process. You will learn more and become better.

When you are able to shift your inner awareness to how you can serve others, and when you make this the central focus of your life, you will then be in a position to know true MIRACLES in your progress toward prosperity. —Wayne Dyer

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What about swamps?

Swamps don’t seek counsel from those “upriver”—those ahead of them. They do the same things they did a decade ago. They don’t seek new ideas, fresh input, and innovative insights. If they do learn something, they don’t share it with others.


Warren Buffett: A Powerful River of Wealth and Knowledge

You’d think he could slow down. At almost 90 years old, he is the undisputed greatest investor of all time. An investment of only $10,000 when Buffett took the helm of Berkshire Hathaway in the ’60s would be worth a staggering $270 million today—compared to $1.5 million in the S&P 500. He outperformed the market (which did well!) by 180X.

Buffett has rare opportunities. Invitations available to only an elite few. He could relax in palaces, hold powerful positions of authority, and enjoy the greatest pleasures the world has to offer.

But Buffett chooses to spend most every day like he spent most every other day for the past 60 years. He stops at the McDonald’s drive-thru in his Cadillac, says hello to a few people in his meagerly staffed office, then holes up for the day. Doing what?

Buffett reads. He reads The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times, USA Today, the Omaha World-Herald, and American Banker. Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading these newspapers and about 500 pages of corporate reports. He reads intel reports like those from Howard Marks and other financial types.

Think about this: 100% of what Buffett reads was written by people less successful than him.

Like a river, Buffett isn’t content with the knowledge he already has. He is constantly drinking in more. And he is humble enough to take it in from people he could easily feel superior to.

Related: As a Long-Time Real Estate Investor, Here’s What I’d Do Differently If I Was Just Starting Out…

Also like a river, Buffett unselfishly shares his knowledge with the world. We have decades of detailed annual reports and transcripts of meetings where he shares his wisdom, strategies, and insights. Though shy and intensely private by nature, he has become a paragon of wisdom about finances, investing, and life to the world.

 Warren Buffett is a river.

What About You?

Since you are a member of BiggerPockets, I’m guessing you are already a river. You’ve come to seek knowledge. You’re eager to share what you’ve learned. You are part of the world’s most powerful real estate investment community. Thank you for joining me here!

As I’ve often said, getting involved on BiggerPockets was the smartest investment I’ve made in my 31 years in business. I’m amazed and honored that I get to do this—and so happy to be doing it with all of you.

How can you be a river today—in your job, in your real estate investment community, and on BiggerPockets?

Comment below.

After graduating with an engineering degree and then an MBA from Ohio State, Paul entered the management development track at Ford Motor Company in Detroit. After five years, he departed to start a...
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    Christopher Smith Investor from brentwood, california
    Replied 9 months ago
    I've always thought of my self as an estuary.
    Paul Moore Investor from Lynchburg, VA
    Replied 9 months ago
    Puzzling... yet thought-provoking, Chris! :-)
    Susan Maneck Investor from Jackson, Mississippi
    Replied 9 months ago
    You'll have to forgive this persnickety professor but both New Orleans and Mumbai (Bombay) were built on swamps.
    Paul Moore Investor from Lynchburg, VA
    Replied 9 months ago
    Agreed! But these cities are the exceptions. I actually thought that DC was as well, but when I researched it, it turns out that only a small % is. (Some researchers think they've located that area of town and are working on a solution. But that's another conversation.)
    Charles Borrelli Investor from Palm Bay, Florida
    Replied 9 months ago
    Orlando as well
    Kelsi Cleary-Hammarstedt from Brooklyn, NY
    Replied 9 months ago
    Great post!! I need to get more involved on BP! Cheers to a healthy and prosperous 2020
    Paul Moore Investor from Lynchburg, VA
    Replied 9 months ago
    Thanks so much, Kelsi!