Career inspiration from Elon Musk: 5 steps to becoming extraordinary

Written by Gordon Young
Posted on

Elon Musk is not your average human being. Zip2, PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX: just a few of the forward-thinking companies he’s been behind. He taught himself how to code in three days; earned degrees in both physics and economics; borrowed books from friends and taught himself how to build rockets.

Apart from being a billionaire several times over, he’s on the cusp of delivering the Tesla Model 3, an affordable electric car for the masses. He’s also promised to send humans to Mars by 2021-2031. From anybody else this might seem a bit bombastic. But coming from Musk, it sounds like something that just might be possible. 

So for all the entrepreneurs out there with a restless spirit – or for any troublemakers who simply want to challenge the status quo – here are some pieces of advice from Musk on how to be successful in a world that isn’t changing fast enough for you.

Have a compelling goal

The goals that Musk have pursued have been those that have not only inspired himself, but also the team of people he’s enlisted to work with him. These goals – whether interplanetary space flight or electric cars – are all focused on the future, and on significantly bettering current conditions. Here are some of Musk’s thoughts:

  • You shouldn’t do things just because they’re different. They need to be better.”

  • A company only exists if they do useful things for other people… A company must be doing something significant.”

  • You want the future to be better than the past… Keep thinking about: are these efforts resulting in a better product or service – and if they’re not, stop those efforts.”

Don’t be delusional

Don’t get infatuated with your brilliant mind. Take it for granted that you might be doing something wrong, and seek the counsel of trusted friends. Or, as Musk puts it:

  • Constantly seek criticism. A well thought out criticism of whatever you’re doing is as valuable as gold.”

  • Take as much feedback as you can from as many people as you can.”

  • What’s the difference between really believing in your ideals and sticking to them, versus pursuing some unrealistic dream that doesn’t really have merit? You have to be very rigorous in your self-analysis.”

Work way too hard

This is probably the piece of advice he gives most often – and for obvious reasons. And though he himself is running more than one company, his advice for budding entrepreneurs is to be only slightly less ambitious:

  • Just focus on one company – and throw as many hours at it as you possibly can. Work morning ’til night. Think about it in your sleep. Seven days a week. No breaks. Nothing. That’s what you should do when you’re starting a company.”

  • No task is too menial … That’s the right attitude for the CEO of a startup.”

  • If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour weeks, in one year you’ll achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Make friends with failure

Musk likes to cite a saying of a friend of his regarding trying to get a business up and running: “It’s a bit like eating glass and staring into the abyss.” He also tells people, “Have a high threshold for pain.” Still, one needs to know that failure is not the enemy, but rather the price one might have to pay for being bold enough to try something new.

  • You need to be in an environment where it’s okay to fail.”

  • Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

  • If something’s important enough, you should try even if the probable outcome is failure.”

And, finally, know that “free will” is a thing

Musk has a healthy skepticism for the status quo. Just because something’s been done in a particular way for countless generations doesn’t mean that it has to – or even should – stay that way. And just because you’ve lived your life in a particular way for seemingly countless years doesn’t mean that you have to keep living it that way. You can change. And that’s why Musk said:

  • I think people can choose to be not ordinary. They can choose to not necessarily conform to the conventions that were taught to them by their parents. Yes, I think it’s possible to choose to be extraordinary.”

See also:

5 David Bowie quotes that will inspire you for the new year
Courage: inspiring words from Gord Downie
Chef Michael Smith on going back to your roots
Scott Gomez talks life after hockey

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