An Open Letter to Elon Musk

On August 16, 2018 Elon Musk revealed the personal toll of his past year to the New York Times. The next day, Ariana Huffington tweeted Elon an open letter asking him to work smarter not harder, to take time to recharge his body and mind, to be better, more productive, and more careful regarding his physical, emotional, and mental health.

During the small hours of the next day, presumably after returning home from a long day’s work, Musk replied:

Tesla On The Hard Road To Fruition

It seems that Elon Musk is suffering from being under a lot of pressure. Musk has faced both engineering and financial challenges in building an affordable electric car, and there are many obstacles left yet to overcome. Musk’s original misstep might have been seriously underestimating the lack of capable talent available to replace him once he made it to the top.

Tesla will definitely face opposition from the guilty parties of, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”, as well as short sellers, who aim to devalue the stock price of Tesla. And lastly, Musk faces persistent criticism from both his detractors and allies like Arianna Huffington, bringing new found attention to the issues of work-life balance, work ethic, and individual autonomy.

Elon Musk is Humanity’s Best Hope

If the reader can suspend their belief that Elon Musk is an alien, I think we can agree that no one alive is immune to such a parade of intense and constant stress. Maybe that’s why Tesla is one of the most shorted stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Are the short sellers betting on the devastating effects of stress, burnout, and lack of sleep or something else?

“Are you betting on humanity or not?” The short sellers are betting against a viable hope to solve an energy crisis. If they are right, their future would be about as dismal as the 2008-2009 “Big Short”. The short sellers are strongly incentivized to kill the electric car, and that causes a troublesome conflict of interest when a humanitarian catastrophe could be at stake.


Strivers and Thrivers

There are two sides to the topics discussed, strivers like Elon Musk and thrivers like Arianna Huffington, and camps have started forming on both sides of the decidedly divisive issue.

Strivers

Elon Musk is by no means alone in setting audacious goals and being fanatically obsessed with achieving them, but strivers can land rockets, and strivers have an unshakable belief in the importance of hard work. Strivers talk about “hustle”, as in putting in the right kind of effort, and for strivers when it comes to success, “hustle” is just another part of the equation.

Thrivers

Arianna Huffington, and her new startup Thrive Global represent the thrivers. Thrivers prioritize health, wellness, family, and friendships above work. Thrivers deserve credit for winning the eight hour workday, and are now pushing back against the memetic voluntary 80 hour work week. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, took a stand against “hustle” culture at the Web Summit 2018 in Lisbon, and he’s asking thrivers to join the fight:

“This idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough … this is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now,”

It begs the question, who is responsible for the consequences when lifestyle advice can be packaged with hidden risks, marketed, and sold, often times to a vulnerable audience? How do we hold distributors and consumers of that advice accountable when, like the lending of a subprime loan, some of those packages of advice eventually lead to disastrous results?

Whitman’s Idea

How much are “strivers” and “thrivers” born that way, and how much do they learn along the way? Can we both understand our true selves and adopt the traits that best suit our circumstances – not blindly follow prevailing cultural norms or presume to know how others should live their lives? Can strivers and thrivers coexist? Can the two opposing worldviews be reconciled in the individual? Maybe so, maybe that’s what Whitman meant, “If I contradict myself, very well then I contradict myself.” That was quite a supreme idea he had there.

Categories: Productivity