2017 / 28 October

7 Life Lessons from Elon Musk

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Image of Elon Musk

During my recent vacation to the mountains in Himachal Pradesh, India, I had the pleasure of reading about Elon Musk. I can safely claim that if there is a superman alive today, it is Elon Musk. I have always followed news about him with great interest and consider him a true visionary. This is because he has staked his existence on ventures that other not only found unsustainable but also considered ridiculus. I am happy to share a few life lessons that I derived from this reading.

Adversty Makes You Strong

First lesson that we can learn from his life is that adversity makes us strong in the long run. Even if he was not financially underprivileged, he had his share of problems during the childhood. He was bullied and beaten by rogue kids at school. His fault – he was a nerd. He was a voracious reader and socially awkward. That made him an easy target to pick on. At home, his father gave him a hard time emotionally. He provided games, computers and stuff but emotionally Musk had a hard time with his dad. His parents got divorced during his childhood and that had its own share of problems. Now, when he looks back, he feels that all these expereinces made him strong. None of us like adversity but if you are going through an adverse phase, remember that it will strengthen you.

Think Big

This mantra is often repeated by the gurus. But it is a different thing to see it being practiced by Musk. Right from his earliest ventures, he thought big. What you do may seem small and straightforward to outer world but the success is big only if your thinking is big, really BIG. The underlying motivation for all his ventures is to revolutionise and disrupt things for the betterment of mankind. Whether it was the internet play at Zip2 or digital payments at Paypal, more than the actual service, the thinking behind the companies was revolutionary. The extreme example of this is SpaceX. This company may be making rockets and satellites today but Musk’s ultimate vision is to colonise Mars. He wants human race to be a multi-planetary species and colonising mars will be a BIG step in this direction.

Screw Your Detractors

Not literally but in your mind. The earlier you learn doing this, the better for you. Whatever you may set out to do, there will be more people around who will ridicule, resist, complain and make fun. Tesla is the best example of this. Consider this: Automobile industry has not seen any real innovation in last thirty years. Last successful automobile startup in US was Chrysler in 1925. The idea of a fully electric car has been ridiculed by mainstream auto companies for decades. Tesla was most favoured target for haters during much of its initial phase. Industry experts, commentators and blogs poked fun at Musk and Tesla for what they were trying to achieve but they continued on their path undeterred.

I have come to the conclusion that you need to be equally, if not more, disdainful of your detractors. You may not want to write equally repulsive blogposts, comments and tweets but in your mind you need to SCREW them and move on.

Luck favours the prepared mind

This has been one of my guiding principles in life. Musk’s story has been a stamp of authority on this principle. He came so close to extinction many times that it is not funny. At one point his companies ran out of cash to the extent that he was not going to be able to pay salaries. But he kept on trying till the end when finally Tesla received funding and SpaceX also bagged a multi-billion contract from NASA. Surely, lady luck smiled just in time and in a span of couple of months, he became a superhero again. But what if he had accepted defeat earlier? What if he had stopped trying? Even if these events did not happen, he would have gone down fighting. As Gita says,’ The one who perishes performing his Karma attains the highest heaven.’

Another example of confluence of preparation, desire and luck is Musk’s association with Tesla. He was clear that he wanted to revolutionize the electric car space. He was doing his own research in this area, attending conferences and meeting people. When he heard of this upcoming startup, named Tesla by co-founder Eberhard, he jumped in. He associated not only as a financial investor like any other VC but as a functioning co-founder. If his vision about the mass-market electric cars had not taken shape when the Tesla opportunity came up, there is good chance that he would have had to create something else a bit later.

You cannot have it all

Even a multi-billionaire and super-achiever like Musk cannot have it all. As is apparent in his story, he is severely lacking in normal emotional intelligence. Some consider it even a higher level of emotional evolution. He is not bothered about treating people in a particular way specially if they are his employees. His philosophy is that these people are meant to perform their jobs as per his desires, to aid him in achieving his goals and vision. Anyone who is not able to run along at his pace and think along his vision, need not be there. He cannot please everyone and care for people’s emotion as he is a man in hurry. Achieving his goals is the supreme target and rest can go to hell. To some extent, this has rubbed onto his family life with multiple divorces although he is more considerate with family and friends.

You cannot achieve everything on your own

Ultimately, however capable you are, you need to have a highly, if not equally, capable team. Whether it was Zip2, Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX or Solar City, the founders vision and capability can only take the venture thus far. Musk didn’t shy away from associating with the best, hiring the most talented people and pushing them to the limit. Agreed that he has taken too much on himself but he still has farmed out majority of the grunt work to his teams.

Even the Superhuman is a Human

It is satisfying to note that billionaires and super-achievers also have to struggle with similar issues as us lesser mortals. Musk is concerned about his children, five boys. Worried that they spend too much time on shitty video games. Elon Musk tries to ration time for them to play these games, to expose them to good games. He is trying to instill the reading habits into his kids. He has also faced challenges in his marriages. Trying to make relationships work is as much a challenge for him as all of us. I have written several posts about parenting and relationship issues among couples.

This brings me back to where we started – all adversity and challenges are part of ‘so what?’. What matters is what we do after being faced by adveristy and challenges.

If you feel a bit inspired by what I shared above about Elon Musk, do read his biography by Ashley Vance. You may not like the person as a whole or some aspects of him but nothing prevents you from learning the good traits.

Your copy of my book Happiness is All We Want! is available on Amazon.in and Amazon.com

Feel free to leave your comments here or write to me at info@ashutoshm.com

Ashutosh Mishra - Author/Banker

A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.

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