Elon Musk: Poster Child for Overachievers?

Has Elon Musk become the poster child for overachievers who are rich and unhappy? I think I get it–setting stretch goals and being rich can be fun, but at what price? Heck, stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone from time to time can also be fun and productive, but if you stay out of your comfort zone long enough you’ll have a nervous breakdown, and that’s a fact. Balance, anyone?

I keep reading these stories about Mr. Musk’s long term, ongoing 80+ hour work weeks, not spending any significant time with his family, obvious signs of high stress on camera, etc. To be clear, I admire him greatly. He’s obviously brilliant, creative, and talented, but is he missing the most important part of being alive (that is, if you agree with me that life is to be enjoyed)?

For goodness sake, can’t he either do less and make less money, or delegate some of the crushing responsibility of running 482 companies (or whatever the count is now) and still feel okay about himself when he puts his head on the pillow at night (or apparently on the couch in his office)?

Having raised a family of overachievers by mistake, I watch my children struggle with this syndrome in subtle and not-so-subtle ways regularly. “Maybe if I just work a little harder and achieve more I’ll feel content one day.” Fahgettaboudit, life doesn’t work that way.

It’s all about balance; whether you call it “life balance” or “emotional bank account balance.” For more detail, please see The Principle of Balance and Justification (PB&J) in my book.

Living to work rather than working to live isn’t sustainable; the classic definition of burnout is working longer hours but getting less done because you’re tired. Therefore you’re losing on all fronts–you’re not doing you’re best work in your business and you’re not enjoying your life either.

Mr. Musk seems to be doing a good job with two of the four major sources of happiness; 1) doing work you love, and 2) making enough money to pay your bills with some left over for having fun. However, he seems to be coming up significantly short in the other two, 3) a caring relationship with yourself (physical and mental health), and 4) caring relationships with others. It’s pretty easy to do the “emotional bank account” math–if you’re only doing 50% of what it takes to be happy, then you’re going to be unhappy.

Mr. Musk, you deserve better–give it to yourself; we don’t want to lose one of the world’s greatest business talents. I don’t know about you, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that when I die it won’t really matter much how much money I have left or how many people know my name. I’ll have moved on to my next project…

High-Performance Habits
  1. Make a firm decision about whether enjoyment or achievement is going to be more important in your life.
  2. Build an organization that creates long term, sustainable financial success for all involved rather than a “try hard/110%” falling star that only enjoys a brief moment of glory before it flames out.
  3. Remember that once you’re tired (burnout), you begin to lose quality on all fronts until you restore balance.
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