Featured Image Photo Credit: TED.com
What an incredible achievement. The Falcon Heavy tore up through the sky like a demon. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about any kind of space launch. In fact, I might’ve been in elementary school when the teachers wheeled-in a cathode-ray tube on a cart for us to watch the space shuttle launch.
Elon Musk is on a roll. I admit that until very recently, I hadn’t paid much attention to the guy or what he’s been up to. I think that’s because his passions (at least on the surface) have little in common with MY passions (real estate, the great outdoors, or writing about early retirement.) Cars, Rockets, and Cubicles? Not on my radar!
Looking deeper though, I think there’s some good nuggets of wisdom I can learn from Elon and his story so far. This past Christmas I used an Amazon gift card to snag a book that had been in my wish list for many months: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Pretty good timing that I’ve almost finished it, leading up to the “Heavy” launch, earlier this week.
That Elon Kid
What’s interesting to me about Musk is how his origins are so similar to others who have achieved mega-success. He had a less-than-happy childhood. He was a child of divorce. Often picked on in middle school and an introvert, he escaped to books and read himself silly, even resorting to the encyclopedia when he ran out of comics to digest. Every parents’ dream, right?
Maybe it’s obvious, but if you spend your childhood pining for something different, fantasizing about an alternate reality, I think that sort of sticks with you, even when you find yourself in an improved situation later in life. All that reading and introspection was akin to heavy bench presses for the brain, preparing Musk to take on monumental tasks as an adult.
Elon took his passion for computer programming from his roots in South Africa over to North America. Escape mission – successful. The rest of the story is pretty familiar. A successful software startup right out of college that foreshadowed Yelp!, followed by a huge hit with PayPal. Each step was a springboard to something bigger and more meaningful.
Determination and Actualization
For Musk, finding a way to both save the planet, while also developing a means to escape it, became top priorities. Enter SpaceX (escape) and Tesla Motors (save.) And for kicks, he joined his cousins in starting up Solar City (save.) Ignore the recent flamethrower nonsense, and Elon has produced game-changers that make Steve Jobs’ accomplishments look trivial.
In some respects, Musk is what happens when you combine the best of Jobs with the best of Wozniak. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a reach. But I don’t recall Jobs ever coding any software…
Tesla overcame crazy odds to produce a significant volume of electric cars that today, beat the absolute shit out of any other motor vehicle on the market. They also beat other automakers in terms of “most expensive”, but have a resale guarantee that’s unique in the industry.
SpaceX has recaptured our imagination with its crazy ability to land booster rockets after initial launch, even at sea. Tell Musk he’s nuts, or, “It can’t be done” and then wait for it to happen. It usually seems to happen.
Elon Musk, Early Retiree
Imagine for a second if this guy all of a sudden said, “You know what? It’s been a fun ride. I’m going to hang it up now. Spend some time raising my five boys, ferry them around town on a bike trailer. Hunt for tadpoles at the creek.” You don’t get very far with this vision.
After all, Elon Musk thinks he’s Iron Man. Mars has yet to be conquered. Electric cars still represent a tiny fraction of the market. In short, there’s a shit ton of work left to do.
The only thing that would cause a Type-A genius like Musk to retire early is if he worked for someone else. Couple that with working in a job that doesn’t change the world, or at least, working in a job that doesn’t inspire passion.
Don’t get me wrong, working at Tesla and SpaceX, from what I’ve read, is as close to Burn-out City as a job gets. Employees will never outwork their CEO (Musk is Mr. 18 hours a day, 7 days a week “ON”), and it’s easy to be intimidated when you work for a mad scientist. You won’t pull the wool over this guy’s eyes.
Maybe, just maybe Musk would retire early, if it came at the end of a voyage to Mars. We might picture him relaxing in a hammock under a pink Martian sky, where the atmosphere has been reconditioned, or he’s simply inside a clear plexiglass bubble. Nah, he’d probably start to work boring into red rocky ground to see what geological treasures lie beneath.
How Elon’s Journey Relates to Ours
What compels you and me to want to retire early is the powerful rational side of our brain that understands our limitations. What we want isn’t too far off from what Musk wants: control of our destiny.
For Musk, owning his enterprises and being the supreme “shot caller” enables him and motivates him to a relentless drive. The rest of us pencil pushers can only imagine that dynamic: A.) You’ve got massive resources at your disposal. B.) You actually know what the fuck you’re doing with those resources.
The lesson here, if there is a lesson, is that early retirement is bound to be more fulfilling if you can lock in on your passion and be in control of how that passion is executed. Writing a blog is a great example. No one else is telling you what to write. You don’t have a boss to proofread your content or pick the best photos. Maybe you have an invention in your garage you want to tease out and pursue a patent on?
Work Life Balance and Those Pesky Regrets
Even better, your family is something to be passionate about and pursue with vigor. Note that Musk is a twice-divorced father of five kids he rarely gets to spend quality time with. That’s the single biggest trade-off he’s chosen to make to pursue his dreams.
Could it come back to bite him at 95 while swaying in that hammock on Mars? Only he can answer that. And I won’t judge the guy, because heck, I’m a big fan and a believer in what he’s working towards. But I can tell you that for little old me, I’m pretty content to pursue some low-throttle ambitions in order to keep a good balance.
So you’ve heard it here first, folks. Cubert will start-up SpaceY in his garage, come Summer of 2019. Apologies for any shrapnel that lands in your yard, and loud explosions (er, pops) that could occur at any hour. Or wait, maybe a new bicycle design that’s more environmentally friendly and forward-thinking in design… Nah. I think I’ll stick to real estate. Smart.