What Makes A Man Like Elon Musk?
Running multiple billion-dollar companies, changing the world, and having more money than you know what to do with; it seems Elon Musk has it all. Here's an entrepreneur that seems to be living up to Silicon Valley's self-professed intention to change the world. A lot of ambitious young men and women dream of being like Musk. Who wouldn't, right?
Yet if you look below the surface, you'll see that his life is far from perfect. For all his superhuman achievements, Musk's life is one of great highs and soul-crushing lows. Extreme success comes from an extreme personality, both of which come at a cost.
The reality is that you don't want to be Elon Musk.
Musk's life has not been a happy one. In Ashlee Vance's biography, readers get a glimpse of Elon's early childhood. Growing up in an unhappy home in Apartheid-era South Africa, his childhood lacked normalcy in almost any way.
Being incredibly intelligent and bookish in a culture that adores jocks, Elon quickly found himself the target of merciless bullying. At home, he faced serious abuse from his father. Preferring the company of his siblings over others, he withdrew into himself from an early age.
Elon retreated into books in order to cope. He sought solace in the public library, reading anything he could get his hands on. When he faced an existential crisis at a young age, he started to gravitate towards comic books. He was regaled with tales of heroes single-handedly saving the world. It cemented an important lesson: one person with enough means and determination can change the world. Reality, he soon realized, was malleable.
In shutting out the rest of the world, he learned to focus obsessively. “It was not unusual for him to read ten hours a day,” according to his brother Kimbal. Entering a trance-like state, Musk could tune out the rest of the world and focus on the task directly in front of him.
In later years, this would go on to serve him greatly. Especially now that we live in a continually-distracted world, focus is exceedingly rare.
It's not a stretch to say that Musk's behavior and outlook on life was largely the result of his childhood in South Africa. As Dr. Frank Gaskill puts it: “Without trauma, Elon Musk would not be a household name.”
Musk knows what suffering is. He has developed coping mechanisms. It's why he's able to persist long after others have given up. It's also why he's been able to weather three divorces, being ousted as CEO from two different companies, near bankruptcy, and media backlash that makes the attention Jeffrey Epstein's ‘suicide’ received look mild.
Like so many of us, Elon Musk is the result of formative experiences in his youth.
Elon Musk is a rare breed of human.
A couple of elements come up again and again in his biography. His relentless work ethic. His perceived rudeness. His ability to obsessively focus. His logical way of perceiving the world.
It's impossible for us to understand what Musk's life is like. Very few people think the same way he does, unless you happen to be wired the same way he is.
We're incapable of understanding the demands of his life. Constantly flying between one city and another, sleeping on a couch in the middle of a factory, managing multiple billion-dollar companies. We cannot possibly imagine the inhuman amount of stress he deals with. The heartbreak, sleepless nights, and public pressure.
As a result of his lifestyle, sacrifices have to be made. Relationships flounder and personal health takes a backset. They're immaterial. They're not his priorities.
And so while his lifestyle looks glamorous, we actually don't want anything like it.
Most of us simply cannot handle it. We desire human connection; a place to call home and a stable social circle surrounding us. We desire moments of quiet and relaxation. We do not want to cope with immense pressure 24/7, 365 days per year.
Musk has managed to leverage the traumas of his youth. He has exhibited the opposite of PTSD: Post-traumatic Growth.
It's what happens when trauma gets turned around and used for personal growth. It's what has allowed Elon to grow into a smarter, more focused, and more successful person than almost any other man. Mostly because he's suffered more trauma than a lot of other people.
Aspiring to be the next multi-billionaire is all the rage nowadays. Instagram is flooded with fantasies of supercars, huge mansions, private jets, and megayachts. It sure must be nice.
Fact is, the life of a billionaire is not necessarily something to envy. Let alone a billionaire who seems determined to make as big a dent in the universe as Musk.
When asked what it takes to become a billionaire, Justine Musk (Elon's ex-wife) shares the following:
There will be jet lag, mental fatigue, bouts of hard partying, loneliness, pointless meetings, major setbacks, family drama, issues with the Significant Other you rarely see, dark nights of the soul, people who bore and annoy you, little sleep, less sleep than that. Keep your body sharp to keep your mind sharp. It pays off.
Learn to handle a level of stress that would break most people.
They are individuals with bold points of view who exploit their very particular set of unique and particular strengths. They are unconventional, and one reason they become the entrepreneurs they become is because they can't or don't or won't fit into the structures and routines of corporate life.
They are dyslexic, they are autistic, they have ADHD or ADD, they are square pegs in round holes, they piss people off, get into arguments, rock the boat, laugh in the face of paperwork.
Doesn't sounds like such a happy existence all of a sudden, does it?
A work ethic like Elon's is the result of being a square peg in a round hole. It's the result of not fitting in. His success too is the result of not fitting in. Of coping with trauma.
Elon Musk regularly does the unbelievable. He built up the first successful American car company since Chrysler in the 1920s at a time when electric vehicles were considered a novelty. He led SpaceX to become the first commercial space-launch agency and the leading player in enabling cheap access to space. He's boring tunnels to alleviate congestion and wants to develop vacuum trains. Eventually, he wants to die on Mars and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
But he's also under intense public scrutiny. A single puff of weed on the Joe Rogan Show caused the US Air Force to investigate his behavior. A single tweet caused him to be fined $20 million. He's weathered multiple divorces, near-bankruptcies, public ridicule for his grand visions.
Like everyone else, Elon Musk was shaped by his childhood and inclinations. His extreme childhood led to extreme inclinations and extreme behavior. Extreme behavior that now gives the impression of enviable success.
In order to be extreme, you'll need to live an extreme life. And it's not always a happy one.
If you're extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point. These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way. They developed strategies to survive, and as they grow older they find ways to apply these strategies to other things, and create for themselves a distinct and powerful advantage. They don't think the way other people think. They see things from angles that unlock new ideas and insights. Other people consider them to be somewhat insane.
- Justine Musk