28 Apr Justine Musk on the cost of extreme success
Justine Musk, ex- wife of Elon, recently submitted her insights to Quora on what it takes to be a mogul. Her insights became a NYT article by Andrew Ross Sorkin. In the article, Justine discusses the cost of success with warmth, intelligence and compassion. The full text of the NYT article is copied below:
For advice on how to be a mogul, take it from someone who has been married to one.
A user of Quora, a user-generated question-and-answer website, recently posed the question: “How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson?”
An unlikely individual responded, quietly offering some telling insights that have created a bit of a stir among the mogul-cognoscenti and beyond.
The individual is Mr. Musk’s former wife, Justine Musk, who was married to the Tesla and Space X chief from 2000 to 2008.
Having lived with the real-life Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man), Ms. Musk, an author, had a ringside view of one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and businessmen — and his network of similarly booming pals.
It is a world with tightly closed ranks. And honest insights about what makes the most successful tick are hard to come by. Usually a parade of academics and other writers comment on the qualities of successful people, trying to speculate about and divine what led to their achievements. Or the moguls themselves wax on with less-than-introspective platitudes about themselves. But Ms. Musk has a unique perspective.
That’s why it was so unusual to see her name pop up in response to the Quora user’s question. Ms. Musk said by phone on Monday that she sat down at her computer one night this month and came across the question. “I was procrastinating,” she said. But the question “tapped into something I was musing about for a while.” She said she had read a lot about success but wanted to share “things people weren’t saying.” What followed were several posts over the last few weeks.
“Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things,” Ms. Musk wrote. “Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success.’ These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way,” she added, noting, “Other people consider them to be somewhat insane.”
She boiled down the one ingredient for extreme success: “Be obsessed. Be obsessed. Be obsessed.”
But Ms. Musk wasn’t being critical. “Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic,” she wrote, “so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.”
She seems to suggest that the most successful businesspeople did not start out looking to become billionaires but did so simply as a byproduct of their maniacal focus. “Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs,” Ms. Musk wrote. “It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.”
In another post, however, she did address how money — billionaire money — is thought about. “Money is rarely just money,” she wrote. “Sometimes it stands in for love or self-esteem or freedom or a sense of control over your destiny (especially if you lacked these things in childhood).”
“Sometimes it is a way of controlling others, including family members, because you don’t know how to connect to them in any other way,” she added. “Money can also serve as a scorecard to indicate how well you are doing, the impact you are having, if you are winning. Sometimes it’s not so much the money that matters, but the win is everything — particularly when you are invested heart and soul in your mission.”
Ms. Musk said the reaction to her posting was a surprise: “I had no idea it would blow up the way it did.” She has received hundreds of comments and many emails. Of course, most readers following Ms. Musk’s musings have been looking for hints about Mr. Musk himself.
She insisted that “I wasn’t specifically talking about Elon” and said she was “uneasy” that people might be reading too much into her words. Still, she said that “Elon is a fascinating character.”
Ms. Musk called herself a “watcher,” not an “insider,” saying, “I’ve been on the edge of it for a long time.” She said she had been inundated with emails about her answers and about Mr. Musk. One asked, “Does Elon have any hobbies?” No, she said. His job is his hobby. “The nature of these things is so all consuming. Unless you see that up close it is hard to understand,” she said, adding that “ ‘obsession’ has a bad rap.”
And what does Mr. Musk think about his former wife’s reflections? According to Ms. Musk, she got an email from him: “Well said,” he wrote.