When you hear the name ‘Elon Musk’, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Published: April 6, 2022 at 6:00 am

I recently asked a group of young people, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name ‘Elon Musk’?”

Here are some of the responses:

  • Brilliant
  • Genius
  • Visionary
  • Passionate
  • Mad genius
  • Crazy
  • Thinker
  • Leader
  • Saviour
  • impulsive
  • entrepreneur
  • risk-taker
  • hero
  • idol
  • god
  • rich
  • billionaire

I then asked, Why is Elon Musk successful? The responses were variations of the above: “He sees what others do not”; “He is a visionary”; “He is a thought leader” etc.

I appreciate that these questions can only lead to subjective responses and many of the responses (maybe even all of them) are “correct” and describes Musk well. But what is the key differentiator that made him what he is today?

Again an opinion, but based on fact: Elon Musk is hard working. He is extremely hard working. That is what I visualize whenever I hear/see/or read about Musk. And this book – Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance – is responsible for this image. The book is an excellent, inspiring read/listen.

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He is supposed to have worked 20-22 hours a day during his first venture X.com. Switching from that to automobiles to space exploration and being an expert in each domain cannot happen without hours and hours of reading and research. He could ruthlessly drive his employees to create better and better products only because he had a clear understanding of what they were doing and what he wants.  Naturally, this led to a lot of friction but he had the personality to push without breaking.

What we see is his money, his success, his flamboyance and his maverick nature but beneath all that is a tenacious hard worker. You cannot dream without backing it up with hard work.

After learning he was the richest man in the world (as of Jan 7th 2021), Musk tweeted: How strange, back to work. I have no doubt that he meant it while also offering us a small lesson on priorities.

Elon Musk Back to Work Tweet screenshot
Elon Musk Back to Work Tweet screenshot

Sure, he is no saint but has plenty of inspirational qualities. What we see in a person defines us, not them.

This reminds me of two instances.

(1) Jim Carrey is a versatile actor, best known for his comic roles. He hails from an extremely poor background. His family lived off a van in Canada, and at age 16, he quit school to become a full-time custodian (a Janitor). Prior to that, he had an 8-hour shift after school helping his father on the same job. (source, plus many others online)

In the early 90s, he wrote himself a cheque for 10 million dollars for acting services rendered and dated it Thanksgiving 1995 ( 2nd Monday of October in Canada or 4th Thursday of Nov in the USA) 1995 and put it in his wallet. Just before said date, he was paid 10 million dollars for Dumb & Dumber. As Oprah Winfrey so rightly puts it in this interview (youtube),

Jim Carrey visualised himself as rich and visualisation works if you work hard

To which Jim replies,

Yes, you cannot visualise and go eat a sandwich!

When his father passed, Carrey placed the cheque in his father’s casket because it was “our dream, together”. Read more: Want To Get Rich? Write Yourself A One Crore Cheque!

People today want to do “smart work” from day one. I don’t see how this is possible unless luck has something to do with it. It is only with experience we learn how to optimise effort. There is no escape from trial and error.

The same reasoning applies to investing and wealth building too. No one knows whether our choices are right or wrong. We will take to take that inevitable chance. More importantly, it is about what we focus on. Do we look at guaranteed returns or tax benefits or recent high returns? Do we suffer from a fear of missing out or regret?

Are we emotional about market losses today or are we emotional about financial independence after retirement? Or do we see ourselves as rich in the long term and ready to face long periods of pain and suffering (poor market returns) while continuing investments? What do we see when we hear a FIRE story? Do we look at the person’s discipline or do we whinge “oh that person went onsite, that is why”

What we choose to worry about decides our fate. There is a good reach why Arjuna among all the Pandavas and Kauravas was able to shoot the eye of the bird.

(2) Do not judge success in terms of success!  Never define success in terms of wealth, salary or education or belongings or even success!

Success is nothing more than the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. – Earl Nightingale.

Progressive realization requires continuous toil. As long as you have a goal and are striving towards it, you are already successful. I am trying to get my 12-year old to appreciate this. He understands the words. The Sooner he understands their true meaning, the happier he will be in life. Read more: I am 17 years old and want to learn investing, help me get started.

The next time we see Elon Musk or someone as accomplished or as rich, let us see past their current social station and be inspired by their journey.

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalDr M. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has over ten years of experience publishing news analysis, research and financial product development. Connect with him via Twitter(X), Linkedin, or YouTube. Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books: (1) You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) for DIY investors. (2) Gamechanger for young earners. (3) Chinchu Gets a Superpower! for kids. He has also written seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation promoting unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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