The Truth About Being An Entrepreneur According to Elon Musk

The internet, today, is full of entrepreneurs writing about their lives and challenges. It’s a sub-genre of writing that has become difficult to miss, particularly on platforms like Medium. And, although some of this content is certainly deserving of merit and attention, there’s irrefutably a great deal that is provided oxygen by our cultural curiosity with the mental conditions that lead to starting companies. Or, worse, the conditions leading to perceived successes (or outright failures) in this world.

For these entrepreneurs, their sleepless nights and utterly dysfunctional emotional conditions are hacked into succinct, baited headlines about their guidelines for success. It’s a process that they’re not, obviously, inclined to challenge because the narrative is useful — that if your career is going to traverse a tenuous path between success and failure that a well-syndicated article or two might do wonders for investors who opt to Google you in a few years.

“Fail fast. Onward and upward you’ll go.” — Clickbait authors

Thus, the cycle continues. Young people read your self-congratulatory post about life hacking your daily routine to squeeze even more work into your day. They don’t read between the lines — few would have the context to do so. Instead, they see someone who they look up to as finding success by ploughing themselves into the ground, just like the folks who preceded them. “Success,” as a concept, becomes woefully diluted.

Here’s the truth, in 20 words, from the man who gave us PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX:

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I get asked frequently what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur. I used to be a lot more brash and just blurt out an answer that made me seem like I knew all the answers (I don’t), but now I will usually ask “On a scale from 1 — 10, how real do you want to be?” They all say at least a 9 at which point I tell him them not to become an entrepreneur. It is fraught with so much pain that you would have to be a crazy to volunteer to do it.

You can see the blood drain out of their face as their “Uber for Tacos” dream dies before the pitch deck was even completed.


The truth

Entrepreneurs are just like you, just a whole lot more insecure. Don’t believe me, why do you think that we push so hard for what we’re working towards, chasing after a vapor that will never be caught. Our unhealthy pursuit of something bigger than us covers up what we don’t want you to find out, shine the light over here and don’t worry about what lurks in the shadows. This leads to bigger and bigger plans lauded by more life hacking posts that get shared on social media with the hopes of getting more clicks to fulfill our true needs, substituted by micro doses of dopamine.

When you are an entrepreneur, every single day you wake up ready to wrestle an octopus with its arms flailing about — the investment didn’t come in — or worse the smallest investor wants to tell you how he can really help if you will just give him the chance to be on your team — tentacle across the temple, payroll is due, not coincidentally at the exact same date of your mortgage — sucker to the forearm, a customer sends you an email telling you how your most recent pricing decision is going to cause you to lose 30% of your customer base -then responds an hour later telling you that he calculated wrong and that you will in fact lose 80% of your customers — arm around your throat, your credit card processor lets you know that they will need to hold more cash in escrow than they originally told you, and so on a Tuesday before your second cup of coffee but after your third Excedrin you feel like the loneliest person on the face of the earth. The next 12 hours consists of fighting tentacles, lashing them to one another, tucking them into the drawer for one more night so you can get the rest you need to tackle the next day. Then at 3 am an octopus arm reaches out from the drawer, slinks across the floor and smacks you across the face.

Wake up, it’s time to face another day.


Living in community

Over the years, I’ve written plenty of articles and conducted plenty of interviews, wherein I’ve projected the best possible version of me and my circumstances. Often, it’s been my job to do so.

But the reality is — and always has been — so much different.

Building businesses and succumbing to your entrepreneurial desires takes a lot out of you.

We ought to be more honest about what it’ll take to build these things. And we ought to avoid glamorizing such objective negatives.

Rather than opening a new tab to read about The Top Ten Ways to Lose Weight and Become More Productive and Sell Your Company for $1 Billion Dollars, open your journal and be honest with yourself. Read a piece of fiction. Go for a walk and call an old friend while you’re out and be vulnerable with them.

If you’re building things, the support you need isn’t another purported Hack for success. It’s a salve for the emotional problems you’re going through. And the only way to find that support is by being honest about the situation in which you find yourself — the one of your own creation.

Being an entrepreneur can be awful. But the journey is worth the pain, for the wisdom gained can can only be found in the journey. Focus on the pain, the only thing that is real.

Recognize that the lows can be terrible and the highs can be fantastic.

That’s the truth of it and I still choose to pursue it. But that’s the truth of it, regardless.

In my circle of entrepreneurial friends several have admitted to dealing with clinically diagnosed depression and many others have wondered if they suffer from it. You are not walking a path that has not been walked before reach out and ask for help.

For additional reading:

https://www.amazon.com/Hypomanic-Edge-Between-Craziness-Success/dp/0743243455

https://seanpercival.com/2013/02/01/when-its-not-all-good-ask-for-help/

https://benhuh.com/2011/11/29/when-death-feels-like-a-good-option/