Elon Musk says a successful life boils down to these 10 things

Tech entrepreneur, space explorer and Twitter (now “X”) owner Elon Musk has a very specific view of life. 

He’s discussed his philosophies and beliefs in various interviews and outlined his roadmap to success. 

Here’s what Musk believes it takes to truly find success in life. 

1) Follow your passion 

Musk’s first rule for success is to follow your passion. 

Don’t follow what somebody else is doing or what you think you “should” be doing. 

Follow what makes your soul feel alive and burns inside you without ceasing. 

It’s a rule Musk has followed in his own life, programming already as a young boy and launching his first tech startup Zip2 shortly after college when few people around him even knew what he was talking about.

Zip2 was a fairly simple idea that became a kind of online yellow pages to help lookup businesses, and it ended up selling for $305 million to Compaq in 1999, paving the way for Musk to start PayPal (a division of x.com). 

The sale of PayPal in 2002 to eBay made Musk into a multi-billionaire and launched his trajectory towards his success and massive wealth today. 

Through his innovations in Tesla, SpaceX, Boring, PayPal and X, Musk has always followed this first rule: he’s done what he loves which is to innovate in transport, technology and human knowledge and business systems. 

2) Be one-of-a-kind

Throughout his career, Musk has emphasized the need to be unique if you really want to make it big. 

Musk used his sale of PayPal for $1.5 billion to get into sending rockets to space and eventually to claim a stake in the future of free speech with the purchase of X. 

He has been a disruptor from the beginning, taking industries like space travel, transport, online social media and banking and revolutionizing them. 

What if we can do space travel cheaper? 

What if we can do it better on electric vehicles (EVs)?

What if we can change our entire idea of what the banking industry does and how it works? 

These are good questions to ask! 

As Musk has made clear, “Don’t just follow the trend.” 

At the same time? 

“You shouldn’t do things just because they’re different,” Musk has cautioned. “They need to be better.”

3) Take a chance 

The best ideas in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t take a chance. 

As Musk has said, after his sale of PayPal he could have just walked away and enjoyed a great life. 

He had another chance to do so with the pandemic as well. 

But he kept creating, inventing and trying harder, because:

  • He’s following his passions!
  • He knows that you won’t change the world or truly succeed if you play it safe! 

And that’s why he moved into SpaceX, Solar City, Tesla and other ventures that are big risks, including taking on Twitter and now shifting it into something new. 

That’s why he kept going and has repeatedly sunk his own money in his ventures if he couldn’t find people who wanted to take a chance. 

He’s put his money where his mouth is and taken a chance when many others would have cashed their check from eBay or tweeted about Twitter from the sidelines a bit and just gone home. 

But by calculating risks and deciding which he wants to take on, Musk found a formula for success, or at the very least for learning a lot from your failures. 

As Chris Beaver writes

“He has consistently emphasized the importance of pursuing your passions, taking risks, and investing in projects that others might think are too risky.”

4) Put problem-solving first, not profits

Musk has made it crystal clear that he believes every successful business and person is focused on solving problems. 

They are being big thinkers and approaching problems and issues in unique and powerful ways. 

Rather than thinking about how much money you can make from a venture, Musk advises us to think about how you can change and improve industries instead. 

This has certainly paid off for him with his various business ventures, which often started small and marginalized only to rise exponentially in value and prominence. 

As Justin Rowlatt writes for BBC: 

“Musk told me he regards himself as an engineer rather than an investor, and says what gets him up in the morning is the desire to solve technical problems. It is that, rather than dollars in the bank, that is his yardstick of progress. 

“He knows every hurdle his businesses overcome helps everyone else who’s trying to solve the same problem – and it does it forever.”

This relates to the next point… 

5) Focus on the product or service and less on marketing 

Musk has made it clear that he prefers to let a product or service speak for himself. 

With Tesla and other companies he’s put a lot of focus on research and design along with improving the actual product. 

His reasoning is simple: 

He believes that word-of-mouth and having an actual high-quality thing that your business offers speaks much more strongly than telling people how good it is in advertisements. 

As Musk says

“At Tesla, we’ve never spent any money on advertising. We’ve put all our money into R&D, engineering, design, and manufacturing to build the best car possible. 

“When we consider spending money, we ask, ‘Will this create a better product?’ 

“If not, we don’t proceed with spending the money.”

6) Think long term 

Way back when he was starting PayPal in the late 1990s, Musk already wanted it to be X-PayPal. 

His initial concept of X as a banking and communication app tying together every aspect of social media and online activity is now beginning to emerge, and that’s also why he’s already owned the x.com domain for years. 

His rebranding of Twitter as “X” isn’t random, but is part of a long-term plan to transform it into the “everything app” in the style of WeChat in China.

Musk has spoken about his belief in thinking long-term numerous times, including his admiration for authors like William MacAskill who pioneered the idea of long-termism.

It’s all about putting off short-term gratification and investing in long-term, transformational ideas and seeing them through even when problems arise. 

7) Work your a** off 

There are many supposed “hacks” for becoming wealthy or succeeding in life and in business, but Musk doesn’t believe any trick can make up for hard work. 

When he started PayPal he and his brother Kimbal were living in a tiny office and showering at their local gym. 

Musk has advised people to work up to “100 hours” per week and “work like hell,” saying that becoming much more productive than other people is a definite secret to outshining them and finding success. 

When your company is doing something important, this merits the massive amount of hours and work put into it. 

As Musk has said

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

8) Learn from failure 

Musk has experienced his fair share of failure, including early rocket launch failures at SpaceX. 

He knew that many people were laughing at him, and he also faced numerous naysayers when the pandemic hit and Tesla’s stock plunged. 

He’s taken what lessons he could from failure and encouraged everyone not to give up too easily. 

Learn what you can, because many times failure and setbacks have lessons that can help us improve, which Musk refers to as a “feedback loop” of improvement. 

This also ties into the next point… 

9) Profit from criticism 

Musk urges people who really want success to take criticism and find value in it. 

If you’re getting feedback, consider whether it has value rather than just tossing it out as “haters.” 

As Musk says

“Rather than ignore negative feedback, you have to listen to it carefully. Ignore it if the underlying reason for the negative feedback doesn’t make sense but otherwise, people should adjust their behavior.”

10) Find the right team

Those who we include on our team make a huge difference in our success in life

Musk occasionally sits in on entry-level interviews at his companies and likes to be involved in bringing on new talent. 

He says that finding people who share your vision but also challenge you and get you to think in new ways is a key part of succeeding. 

The key: Be an eternal learner 

Musk’s key advice is to start from first principles and work your way up: what problem are you faced with and how can it be approached?

Then keep learning. 

Consider criticism, and keep the feedback loop going, creating a perpetual system of refining and improvement. 

The sky (or maybe Mars) is the limit!

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.

0:00
0:00