PETER LYNCH ON THE MEANING OF LIFE In a wide-ranging conversation with FORTUNE, Fidelity Investments' premier money manager tells why he quit, and why he thinks some things are more important than the stock market.
By Peter Lynch Jaclyn Fierman

(FORTUNE Magazine) – FEW PEOPLE, in any career, have had the success of Peter Lynch. To describe his prowess as a money manager, the term ''legendary'' is not too much of a reach. In 13 years as head of Fidelity Investments' Magellan mutual fund, the world's biggest, Lynch produced a total return to investors -- mostly small ones -- of 2,510% (the comparable figure for the Dow Jones average is 451%). He earned millions for himself every year. Then, at 46, he quit, leaving a young successor with the challenge of following his act (see box). Within hours of the announcement, looking paler than usual, Lynch discussed his motives with associate editor Jaclyn Fierman in his Boston office piled high with prospectuses and plastered with family photos. His thoughts will resonate with any 60-hour-a-week manager -- more time with his family, more time for himself, more time to enjoy what he increasingly came to realize is a short stay on earth. In his words:

''Ned Johnson ((Fidelity's chairman and major shareholder)) tried to keep me. He said, ''What do you want to do? Name it. Would you like to run a small fund, run the group, run the kitchen?'' I really didn't make up my mind until the weekend before, though I had thought about leaving Fidelity many times. I was fairly close to turning in my Quotron after the 1987 crash. But I didn't want to leave with the market down 1,000 points. Then the fund went up in the next two years. It is way above the 1987 high now, so I feel this is a responsible time to leave. I have three girls: Mary, 15, Annie, 11, and Beth, 7. And a bride of 22 years, Carolyn. She's been wonderfully supportive. There's a lot of pressure here, and she's never called me up crabby about the long hours. But I think she'll be a happy camper when I'm home more. I know I'll be happier. Six days a week I get up at five and I'm in here at 6:45. I stay till six. I'm home ((to suburban Marblehead)) around seven. I visit about 500 companies a year. I own half of a 19-foot sloop with a friend. But I sail only three times a year. It's called Flicka, Swedish for girl. My partner has three daughters too. I've worked every Saturday since 1982, but not because I want to. I'm not one of those workaholics. I've had to. Running so big a fund, and always looking for ideas, I've even started working four hours Sunday morning before church. On Washington's Birthday, I was working and my family was up in New Hampshire skiing. That really got to me. My daughter Beth was in a ski race, and I missed it. Mary is in tenth grade now and just went away to school. She comes home on weekends and I'm working. I've written her a letter or a postcard every week since she went away. As a family we used to say the rosary. I still do. I keep the beads right here in my pocket. But we don't have a chance now to say it much as a family. I say it at night and at church. But there's just not enough time. If Congress could legislate a nine-day week and I could work six days and have three days off, it would be great. I love the job. I love the people. But I know if Congress did that, I'd probably work eight days out of the nine. My transmission has a very small gearbox. It has overdrive and off. That's it. That's why I'm not going to run another fund or start a fund. Despite his lively family, or maybe because of it, Lynch also began thinking about death. His father, Tom, a math professor at Boston College and later an auditor at John Hancock, died of cancer when Lynch was 10. The father was 46, Lynch's age now. His mother died in 1983. When your parents are alive, you sort of feel immortal. They keep you young. Lately, I've felt old. Last year alone I gave two eulogies, one for a relative and one for a very good friend. I've had several relatives and friends die in the last few years. You say to yourself, wait a second. You're only alive for a while. You're dead a long time. After I leave, I don't want to get too boxed in. There are a lot of charitable activities I'd like to get more involved in, like the archdiocese of Boston. I may go into education. I taught economics in Korea when I was in the Army. But I don't know what else I might do. I only know for sure that I'm not going to take up ballooning or professional singing. I'll do what I have always done at Magellan when I'm looking for investments. I turn over ten rocks and I may find one good idea. Turn over 100, and maybe I'll find ten. I'll stumble along until I find something redeeming and enjoyable. I feel sad about leaving Fidelity. I started in the summer of 1966. I was one of 100 applicants, but I had caddied for the president of the company, D. George Sullivan, for ten years. I got a lot of job offers when I was caddying, . from Gillette, from Polaroid. I had a $300 golf scholarship to Boston College. Tuition then was $1,000. I plan to start playing golf again. It's a great family sport. Fidelity is an incredible place. You can do what you want. I bought General Public Utilities two years after the company's 1979 nuclear power accident at Three Mile Island. No one stopped me. I made four times my money on it. I've also had a few bankruptcies a year. It's a corny place too, where people make each other birthday cakes and everybody knows each other by first names. There's free coffee. Almost everybody owns part of the company. (Lynch reportedly has a 5% to 6% stake and earns $3 million to $5 million a year.) I feel really responsible for my shareholders -- one out of every 250 Americans. Once in New York, I met a lady in her 60s or 70s who told me Magellan had made all the difference to her. She thanked me so much. It turned out she had only $8,000 in the fund, but her investment had increased eight times. The average Magellan account is only $13,000. When you've made some money for a lot of people, you feel incredibly good about it, better than when you've made a lot of money for a few people. I'd like to keep doing this for another ten years. But it's like eating hot fudge sundaes. One's great. Two aren't bad. Six are horrible. With my first daughter, Mary, I was able to watch Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, and take her to McDonald's, and go to the swings, and fly kites. I rarely get a chance to do that with Annie and Beth. But it's not too late to start. Children are a great investment. They beat the hell out of stocks.''