Elon Musk Says Living a Happy, Successful, and Meaningful Life Comes Down to 4 Simple Things

Like Elon Musk or not — the answer probably depends on how you feel about Twitter/X — it’s hard not to respect his work ethic. His willingness to think differently. His ability to achieve huge goals. 

So while you may not agree with all of Musk’s advice — like saying you should walk out of a meeting if you’re not adding value — here are four of my favorites.

Elon Musk on “Attachments”

“Don’t attach yourself to a person, place, or organization,” Musk says. “Attach yourself to a mission, a calling, or a purpose. That’s how you keep your power and your peace.”

Makes sense. If you’re an entrepreneur whose goal is to help people lead healthier, fitter lives, attaching yourself to a particular platform, or method of delivery, can be limiting. Stay flexible and adapt to the needs of the people you serve and you’ll be much more likely to accomplish your mission.

What you want to achieve is what matters. Where, and with whom, you try to achieve it supports your primary purpose; it doesn’t define it. 

Elon Musk on Being a Leader

“(Don’t) try to be a leader for the sake of being a leader,” Musk says. “A lot of times, the people you want as leaders are the people who don’t want to be leaders.”

Steve Jobs agreed. As Jobs said, “You know who the best managers are? They’re the great individual contributors who never, ever want to be a manager, but decide they want to be a manager, because no one else is going to be able to do as good a job as them.”

According to Musk, the key is to focus on the job in front of you, and trust that overperforming in that function will advance your career or business. Makes sense; hiring employees simply because a successful business has employees may be counterproductive. (Could I hire people to expand my business? Absolutely. Do I want to manage people? Nope; that’s why I left my corporate job.)

Be a leader if you want to serve people. Be a leader if you can embrace the idea that your success comes from seeing other people succeed.

But don’t aspire to a leadership position just because you think you should.

Elon Musk on the Power of Simplicity

In simple terms, a first principle is a basic proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption; a fact or conclusion that is the only conclusion, regardless of your perspective. 

Or as Musk says in this 2013 TED Talk, “Boiling things down to their fundamental truths, and reasoning up from there.”

For Musk, first principle thinking led to purchasing the raw materials — which cost 2 percent of a typical rocket’s price — and building instead of buying rockets for SpaceX missions, cutting the price of launching a rocket by a factor of 10.

First principle thinking also led to designing lightweight, aerodynamically efficient, electric cars in order to offset heavy batteries — and to building those batteries in-house too. Since the cost of materials was traditionally a fraction of a battery’s price (and materials are, barring future design advancements, a first principle), Musk decided that finding “clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell” could lead to “batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”

Musk boils things down to their fundamental truths, and reasons up from there. 

Elon Musk on Taking Risks

In a 2014 commencement speech, Musk told graduates:

Now is the time to take risks … As you get older your obligations increase. And once you have a family, you start taking risks not just for yourself, but for your family as well. It gets much harder to do things that might not work out. So now is the time to do that, before you have those obligations. I would encourage you to take risks now and do something bold; you won’t regret it.

Makes sense.

But that advice applies as you get older — maybe especially as you get older. A study of 2.7 million company founders determined the most successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged, even in the tech sector. A 60-year-old startup founder was three times more likely to launch a successful startup than a 30-year-old startup founder, and nearly twice as likely to launch a startup that would land in the top 0.1 percent of all companies. 

So while the risk may seem higher in terms of your responsibilities, the risk is likely lower in terms of your skills, connections, and experience.

In short, the real risk lies in not trying to do something bold.

And later regretting it, especially if it’s too late.

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