How to Work as Hard as Elon Musk in a World of Lazy Dreamers
Don’t you know there’s a battle going on?
It’s being fought right now, all around us, between hard working visionaries and the lazy dreamers.
Elon Musk needs no introduction to that; he is one of the Raddest most hard working entrepreneurs out there.
I’m naturally a lazy person as well, and that is why I set out to study & understand how Elon moves through the day.
Although research suggests that being lazy is a sign of high intelligence, it doesn’t take a genius to see how many lazy entrepreneurs get their shot at being a Billionaire.
That’s what I am aiming for…
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If you fall into either category, I’m sure you’ll have strong opinions. If you don’t, then join me on the sidelines as we witness How Musk’s secret sauce gave him so much zest for working hard.
I bet you’ll never see him in the same light again.
Born in June of 1971, he is most popularly known for founding the space exploration company, SpaceX. Some of his other notable achievements are:
With an estimated worth of about $16.1 billion, Forbes ranks him as the 80th wealthiest man alive. This fact however, would not feature in a top ten list of his achievements. This is in consideration that the list above is in no way exhaustive and is also ever expanding.
With every growing day, Elon Musk seems to come up with even more innovations to wow the world.
- The question then becomes how did he get to where he is now?
- What did he have to do in order to be considered one of the greatest thinkers and innovators of this century?
I think the answer to that question is not as complicated as you might imagine and can be summarized in a single word- hardwork.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of industrious people out there but very few of them have attained the level of success that Elon Musk has.
“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
― Steve Jobs
Well, Elon certainly embodies every quality needed to be a great entrepreneur.
He is certainly the one and only Iron man.
He comes out alive every single time after taking on some of the world’s biggest industries in America, igniting revolutions and creating headaches for giant corporations.
Instead of relaxing in a hammock down in some private island with his $1.5 billion sale of Paypal to eBay, he decided to take that money and funnel it into the auto and aerospace industry.
He claims, and I quote “…this is all for the sake of our species.”
Naturally, we would then ask ourselves what differentiates him from us. How does he work differently and more importantly, how can I apply the same work ethic in my life in order to get ahead in my own battles?
Today I will lift the veil into Elon’s Work Ethic and examine why as a Maverick, he defies all laws of failure. And why despite all his most valuable assets as a tech entrepreneur do personal goals trump everything else.
Elon’s Biological & Psychological Character:
- Undeterred in the face of adversity
- Impervious by the fear of failure
- Principles of Scientific Thinking
First we need to understand Elon’s recipe for working 80-100 hours a week for more than 15 years.
This is what eludes the best of us. How can a person find so much drive in his work?
Working 14-16 hours a day is certainly no goal of ours unless we’re partying or taking a vacation am I right?
Then why would we want to work so hard?
Simple, because we believe that by working harder, we can beat anyone and everyone around us and ultimately achieve success.
First let’s take a look at the barriers that we have to overcome in order to work long hours:
- Biological – The pain of working long hours doesn’t increase linearly with time, it goes up exponentially.
Elon admits this and preaches about the importance of managing our cortisol levels.
- Ergonomics – Although 16 hour work days sound impressive, it goes to show that a little knowledge can be dangerous.
Even marathon runners take water breaks and wear a comfortable shoe.
- Psychological – You hate your work! Therefore hard work is close to impossible.
The only solution is to do work that you love: “Love your work”. This is the root of your problem, so until you change, there is no way to it.
- Boredom – Doing tasks that are menial and repetitive that doesn’t tap into your creative part of your brain.
Working on repetitive manual tasks that can either be automated or solved using technology
- Scientific – the ability to use the simplest science principles to help you work on your stumbling block.
You could work long hours, but if you could solve the problems with a scientific solution, you could find a better, faster and more efficient way of working.
I believe that these are the barriers that we all need to be focusing on.
By first identifying these hurdles, I have laid down the precise formula that I needed in order to follow in Elon’s footsteps.
There is absolutely no other way around this. Period.
Step #1: Be self-driven by something you love doing and just focus on that day in, day out.
For Musk, money isn’t his motivation! Grades aren’t either.
“I’d rather play video games, write software and read books than try to get an A if there’s no point in getting an A.” – Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk
It’s not much of a leap connecting the two together, hard work and doing something that you love. In reality though, this I feel is a lot easier said than done.
Confucius on work ethic said that we should find something that we love doing and we will never work a single day in our lives.
From Elon Musk’s early years you could easily tell what his passions were. By age 12, he had already taught himself programming and even went on to sell a computer game he had coded himself for about $500.
This trend continued even after he got to college where he did Bachelors in physics and a second degree in economics.
From this you could see where his passions lay.
He keeps on going.
For a normal person, it would be extremely tough mentally, emotionally and physically to handle the stress from long working hours.
What’s more you will be away from your family and friends for most of the time.
Biologically, we prefer to spend time to travel or party with our friends.
Think about it, when you’re doing things you enjoy doing, you can spend hours at it without feeling tired.
Time seems to be moving faster than usual.
You don’t feel bad about it even though you may feel guilty afterwards.
Elon dropped out of his PhD studies just days after starting it because he felt that his aspirations lay elsewhere and did not hesitate to pursue them when the opportunity presented itself.
From leaving Yahoo to start SpaceX, his involvement with Tesla (he is the current CEO and product architect), to the creation of OpenAI and Neuralink (companies involved in the safe advancement of artificial intelligence), it is self-evident where his interests lay as diverse as they may appear to be.
He found something that he was passionate about and worked hard at it. In a lot of ways, passion is what fuels our drive, if we can find in ourselves what that is to us then hard work is not really hard work at all.
Our body gets a rush of cortisol when you work on something that stresses you out.
On the other hand, when you truly enjoy something, serotonin is produced and you begin to enter a state of overdrive and maximum control.
Your body can now adapt to longer periods of function without feeling down or stressed.
12 hour work days now seem plausible just because you understand how your body reacts to the work you do.
However, passion alone is not enough. It is just the seed to get you started.
Elon’s inhuman sense of drive and purpose doesn’t seem to be solely reliant on passion alone.
When passion meets with obstacles, that’s when you really get tested.
How do you get from here to there? For Elon, it is his goal to create a human colony in Mars.
For most of us, we won’t even know where to begin.
Let alone doing all the heavy lifting just to see it through.
There are a million and one things to consider and piece together.
Back in 2001, a year before SpaceX was founded, Elon wanted to take the billions he made from the sale PayPal into a project that would re-inspire America to go into space again.
He intellectualized the concept of modifying ICBMs in order to send the seeds of life into the Martian planet.
Unfortunately, the cost of space travel and the ICBMs weren’t expendable and could only be used once.
That essentially means that it would be actually cheaper for him to start a company to redesign and build a rocket from scratch to make it reusable.
In his words, sending a rocket into space that cannot be reused would be like throwing away a Boeing 747 after every flight. That would mean sending humanity into Mars would be impossible.
Look at the solution from an engineering perspective.
My past background as an electrical and electronic engineer, I have been presented with problems to solve when I was working at Texas Instruments.
The difference is when a task has to be solved within a stipulated amount of time compared to when you are given all the time in the world.
When you have to deliver or solve a problem within the hour, the levels of stress is unthinkable.
But it also allows you an opportunity to solve it using a more efficient & effective method.
Take a step back to see whether your problem can be solved a little differently rather than taking it head on to resolve it manually.
Doing so will allow you to see the bigger picture and find a better solution.
The important thing is understanding that your body and mind doesn’t work well when you feel stressed out.
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.”
So hard work is easy when you know what needs to be done, but when we undoubtedly come across obstacles and insurmountable doubts, you must hammer and forge yourself the character to persevere and be flexibly stubborn.
Embrace the challenges along the way and master the art of emotional intelligence like Elon.
Musk doesn’t view fear in the same light like the most of us.
Yet he is still human and confesses to it in a surprisingly candor moment with Sam Altman of Y Combinator. “I feel fear quite strongly,” Elon Musk
Humans are programmed to take the fear of failure very seriously.
It is human tendency to protect ourselves from any form of harm that would endanger our ego and pride.
Our amped up fear stems from our evolutionary and biological survival instincts that may have served us well 100,000 years ago in Africa – but today it severely limits our potential.
Tim Urban of WaitbutWhy.com puts it this way,
“We’re more afraid of public speaking than texting on the highway, more afraid of approaching an attractive stranger in a bar than marrying the wrong person, more afraid of not being able to afford the same lifestyle as our friends than spending 50 years in meaningless career—all because embarrassment, rejection, and not fitting in really sucked for hunters and gatherers.”
It is the easiest way out and our brain is wired to avoid the shame and disappointment that comes with failure.
Ultimately, this leaves most of us with a biased assumption of failure. And that leads us to a path of mediocrity and procrastination.
So how does Elon Musk handle fear?
“People shouldn’t think, I feel fear about this and therefore I shouldn’t do it. It’s normal to feel fear,” he said.
Elon uses fear to push himself into a path of positive action.
Question is, are you allowing your fear of insurmountable obstacles, failure, being ridiculed and the need to fit into society as a possible reason for holding you back?
Are you accepting it so that it informs your safest course of actions?
Musk copes with fear like how we cope with everyday problems.
Like what foot to eat, or what clothes to wear on a daily basis.
He just decides to let that fear prod him to come up with an action that changes what he’s afraid of.
“There are times when something is important enough, you believe in it enough, that you do it in spite of fear.” Elon Musk
Tip: Our guilt and shame about ourselves can fuel hard work
Photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet
If you are anything like me, there is always a nagging feeling at the back of my mind.
On numerous occasions, I have chalked it down to guilt. But why would I feel guilty of not working hard enough?
Studies in the University of Lincoln shows that we have a hidden guilt and shame about our own body, and that fuels us to make more effort to work out.
I believe that inside every person lays a part of you that wants to be great just by working a little harder than we should. We crave for that, because we yearn to unleash our hidden talents and potential.
Elon Musk was bullied in high school, at one point even hospitalized after being thrown down the stairs and beaten unconscious afterwards.
I would like to believe that this was in preparation for what was to come later on in his life.
In one of his earlier ventures into entrepreneurship, together with his friend and another colleague he was spat on by a chief engineer as they tried to buy refurbished intercontinental ballistic missiles for a project he was then involved with.
His friend recounts how the engineer saw Elon Musk as being just a novice and ended up spitting on him.
In some ways though, he was right, it was one of the first few deals that he worked on and so it was expected that he was an amateur.
However unlike most of us, despite his initial rejection he found someone who was more experienced and returned to the meeting.
Although, even afterwards, the deal never worked, it was that experience that sparked the idea of what would later on become SpaceX.
Until that point in his life, that was not his first challenge and undoubtedly would not be his last either, or even his hardest.
From mortgaging his house to fund SpaceX and subsequently almost becoming homeless, to multiple failures as he tried to launch the first privately built rockets into space while at the same time facing immense financial pressure, in true Elon Musk fashion; he seems to always land on his feet.
So if we want to think like a scientist more often in life, those are the three key objectives—to be humbler about what we know, more confident about what’s possible, and less afraid of things that don’t matter. ~Tim Urban
In short hard work means embracing your challenges, be it at home, in your workplace or whichever venture that you are starting.
The aim is that in the long run to not let our challenges undermine our hard work. This leads me onto the next point.
Step #2: The Art of Setting Ambitious goals
Elon Musk has never shied away from his vision however out of the world (literally) some would consider it to be.
He has stated that his main goal is advancing humanity and consequently changing the world by developing viable and alternative sources of energy that are sustainable, reducing the risk that global warming poses, spearheading the drive for multiplanetary life in order to reduce the chances of human extinction and mars colonization.
That’s a mouthful.
All throughout his colorful career you can clearly see the strategic steps he has taken in order to ensure that his dreams become a reality. From the inception of SpaceX, to acquiring Tesla and SolarCity, Elon Musk is a man with a plan and the will to make it work for himself.
I understand that this might be easier said than done, most of us start with a solid plan but due to one reason or another, end up being waylaid somewhere along the path.
Elon Musk was no different as well; he had his own share of distractions.
What he did do differently however was that he adapted to the changes along the way, seizing opportunities as they came along but still remained viciously focused on his own goals.
Having a plan is one of those things that are essential if you plan to be as industrious as Elon Musk is.
A plan functions to keep your perspectives in check and that means you can see where all your hard work is going.
Ambitious goals like 42 kilometer marathons or 16 hour work days require a smarter & more strategic approach rather than a bullish attitude.
- Take brief breaks in between.
- Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day
- Don’t over consume
- 7-9 hours of sleep
- 15-30 minute workouts in a day
Fundamentally build up a good routine and habit for yourself then gradually work upwards.
Step #3: Don’t work for yourself, work for others
The art of fulfillment in life and in work is to do work that you love and one that can ultimately contribute to humanity.
As I have pointed out before, instead of just setting out to make himself filthy rich or famous by exploiting people’s pain or pleasure, Elon Musk has always set his goals to helping humanity move forward.
In a man eat man society where everybody clamors to be rich & successful without a care about what their actions or ambitions might cause; Elon separates himself from the flock by being a servant of humanity.
Instead of exploiting it, he has used his resources time and time again to show that what he cares about most is the advancement of human civilization and in a way that is extraordinary and bold.
Innately, I believe that every single one of us is caring in nature and there is a certain reward in helping others.
Consequently working hard becomes its own reward because we know inside we are contributing to society.
To give another example, Elon Musk is pledging his wealth and assets together with other billionaires like Bill Gates, the pledge honors a promise to give more than 50% of their wealth to philanthropy.
It isn’t a binding contract but a moral commitment.
When you find that what you’re doing no longer needs to be repaid in terms of monetary compensation, you have finally found work that you love.
Now your goal isn’t to be the richest man in the grave, but to create yourself a legacy in which you will be remembered.
Step #4: Intelligent Risk Taking
Elon musk is certainly no stranger to that.
Although some of the biggest success stories are attributed to taking huge risk there is also the flip side to it as well.
As much as this sounds counterintuitive, calculated risks is required for you to move to the next level.
At some point in your life, if you feel that you had reached a plateau; that’s probably because you’re not taking any risks.
When Tesla was at the brink of total failure, Elon made the decision to roll the dice with his entire fortune by putting it into his company.
If he had decided back then to file for chapter 11, you would have probably seen the failure of electric vehicles to make an impact in the world.
Well, now that the huge risk has paid off big time, you could see that taking risk is essentially vital in order to reap the huge rewards.
You don’t get there by playing safe.
Remember that SpaceX was attempting to do something that no one else had done or even thought of before.
In addition to that, he was facing fierce opposition from military contractors that did not want to see him succeed. Plus he was on a shoestring budget of a start-up company trying to make space travel viable for all of humanity.
In short, to say that the whole venture was an immense risk altogether is an understatement.
To put it into perspective, he had invested about $100 million into the company and this was enough for only 3 attempts to successfully launch his rockets.
So, not only was he hedging his name and reputation but he had financial skin in the game. ( You are your own savior )
Generally, 90% of us wouldn’t even dare to put a penny out of a dollar of our assets into ourselves.
Fear can create unnecessary stresses in our minds. And the only way to get it out of our heads is to follow the trail of stress.
Since our brains are designed for survival rather than happiness, it is up to us to re-program it into thinking otherwise.
For Elon, it was all about the desire and the fear.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for you to go out there and sink all your capital into one investment.
On the contrary, take your time and put in the hard work, find out what is viable and what is not.
Elon Musk at the time had about 350 employees but he knew that he could count on them.
He also knew that they were all willing to buy into his vision and at the end of the day, his risk paid off.
Elon has essentially mastered the art of risk taking by getting himself unattached by the notion of failure.
If you personally find out what is worth taking a risk on, you will discover that working hard to make the risk worthwhile will come almost naturally to you.
Just like challenges, most people tend to avoid any kind of risk in their daily lives, I am not faulting them; it is our innate nature to seek comfort and security.
But in order for your dreams to reach that level of success you have always dreamt about, you have to close your eyes and take a leap of faith.
Step #5: Learn continuously, and ask yourself the profound questions to finding the right solutions.
In case you do take a risk and it doesn’t payoff.
Look at that as a sign to begin more intelligently the next time round.
On Aug 2nd, 2008; during a launch that was broadcast live around the world, SpaceX lost their vehicle and mission.
The first stage vehicle after detaching from the rest of the rocket and falling back to earth as they had planned instead crashed into the remaining segment.
In short it ended in a catastrophe.
They were swimming against turbulent waves of obstacles. Obstacles in terms of technology, finances and politics!
In the mood of despair, Elon’s army had already given so much of their blood and sweat.
They were all mentally and physically exhausted.
Most of us at this point would have called it quits and thrown in the blanket, but not Elon. Within a few weeks and together with his small team of less than 400 employees, they managed to troubleshoot what the problem was.
In the same period they also came up with a working prototype and after 7 weeks they were ready to launch.
This would be their first successful flight and the first ever commercial rocket in history. It changed how the world viewed space travel.
Despite what would have been a downward spiral from which he never recovered, Elon picked himself up and immediately set on to do what needed to be done.
What would have been accomplished by much larger companies with all the resources in the world at their disposal and a team of engineers available around the clock in 6 months was achieved in 7 weeks by a startup company with a ridiculously tiny budget for space travel.
How did he and his team accomplish all this despite the setback?
A simple quality of leadership and a veracious attitude in working on the signal rather than the noise
Any other leadership would have blamed the setback onto the lack of resources.
Instead it is precisely the resourcefulness of Elon that allowed him to work on the problems with a better temperament to solve them instead of blanketing the noises.
Elon acknowledges the issues they had; dusted themselves off and started identifying the probable causes of the launch failure.
Right up to that point, Elon had been awake for more than 20 hours but he mustered enough strength and fortitude to learn from their failures.
He accepted the discomfort and position that he was in, by pushing himself and his team even harder.
They took the opportunity to show the world that in spite of this, they would still triumph; they poured their hearts and souls into the project working 70 to 80 hours a week to show others that they had indeed learnt from their mistakes, that next time they would be better for it.
This incident gives you a bit of insight into his unceasing determination to learn and solve every obstacle that stands in his way.
His leadership changed the feeling of despair to a massive buzz of determination to move forward rather than looking backward.
And it happened collectively. Elon wasn’t alone.
His hard working defiance became infectious, and they were all willing to follow him into the gates of hell and back.
Conclusion: Patience & hunger is key
Even if you’re a lazy
Even if you’re a dreamer
Even if you love to procrastinate
You can use these steps to drastically improve your work ethic without losing your blood, sweat and tears.
Elon musk is proof that it doesn’t require a computerized brain. It just needs commitment and trust in scientific principles to navigate the work that you do.
His hard work stems on the fact that he is never satisfied with learning and continues to push the boundaries of what is known to be human.
He is a man operating like a machine.
But that machine is an operating system that can be programmable.
In essence this is what drives him, the constant drive to be better, to do better and to make the world a better place.
Master these 5 steps, and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is doing work that you love. It won’t be easy at first. But the end result will redeem itself a thousand times over.
What do you consider as hard work? Do you have any tips and strategies that I didn’t mention in this post?