This is the worlds leading source of financial content on the web, ranging from market news to retirement strategies, investing education to insights from advisors.
Forex Forever!

Three Steps Elon Musk Took To Become Successful

Author: Michael Taylor

Having broken new ground in numerous industries, Elon Musk has justified his popular reputation as the real Iron Man. In light of his extraordinary biography, it is tempting to conclude that there is little for the average person to learn from Musk's experiences. Yet if we look beneath the surface of Musk's biography—beneath the headline sales, mergers, and IPOs that have propelled his career, we find general psychological principles that we can apply in a wide variety of circumstances. In this sense, there is something that each of us can learn from Elon Musk. (For more, see: How Elon Musk Became Elon Musk.)

A Clear Sense of Motivation

Picture the scenario: you're 28 years old and receive a cash payment of $22 million. This is the situation Elon Musk faced in 1999 after the sale of his first Internet company, Zip2. Under these circumstances, most of us would likely retire into a life of recreation and luxury. In Musk's case, he responded by investing half his net worth into a new venture later that year. That venture,, became PayPal following a subsequent merger.

In 2002, when PayPal was sold to eBay, Inc. (EBAY) for $1.5 billion, Musk repeated this process again. The very same year, he founded Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX. In 2004, he became Chairman of Tesla Motors, Inc. (TSLA), where he has since contributed personally to the company's financing rounds. Two years later, he became Chairman of SolarCity Corporation.

Musk's decision to continuously reinvest in his own projects is far from arbitrary. Instead, it rests upon his underlying motivation for being an entrepreneur. Whether in relation to Internet commerce, space exploration, or renewable energy, Musk's principle goal is to catalyze world-changing innovations. He views entrepreneurship as a means to that end.

Confronting the Worst-Case Scenario

In his famous treatise The Art of War, Sun Tzu counseled his readers to win first, and then go to war. One way of interpreting this counsel is by relating it to the importance of understanding—and accepting—the worst-case scenario associated with each of our endeavors. Once we have done this, we can pursue our objectives with deepened confidence.

By this interpretation, Musk seems to have heeded Sun Tzu's advice. In a March 2015 interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Musk related the story of how, when he was 17-years old, he limited his daily spending to one dollar per day to determine how much money he needed to meet his basic needs.

Needless to say, Musk's life took a different course. A billionaire several times over, Musk is far from needing to worry about making ends meet for one dollar per day. Nevertheless, I believe that this experience contributed to Musk's psychological resolve. By realizing that, if all else fails, he could function with extremely limited res, Musk strengthened a foundation of self-confidence that has paid dividends throughout his career.

Self-Education: Continuously Building Competence.

We live in an age in which the value of personal initiative is greater than ever before. The access to information that the average person enjoys is unprecedented, both with respect to quantity and quality.

One of the keys to Musk's success is that, through life-long education, he has seized upon the opportunities presented by that access. For example, Musk read voraciously in his youth. In his August 2011 profile for the series Bloomberg Risk Takers, Musk reported that he read every book in his house as a child, so much so that he began reading through the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Musk's love of reading is more than just a biographical curiosity. Instead, it has played an important role in the development of his career. In an October 2014 article in Business Insider, Jim Cantrell, SpaceX's former Vice President of Business Development, reportedly said that Musk educated himself in rocket science by interviewing experts and reading textbooks.

The more one learns about Musk's biography, the more it becomes clear that the path he followed was paved with hard-won knowledge. Thankfully, with the access to information we now enjoy, we have the tools necessary to follow in his footsteps. Whether we seize this opportunity is up to us.

The Bottom Line

Although Elon Musk has had an extraordinary career, his success rests upon steps that each of us can learn from. His development of a strong sense of motivation, his understanding and acceptance of risk, and his life-long education have laid down a path that we can all follow. Although there can only be one Elon Musk, there is no limit to the number of individuals who can adopt the principles underlying his success. If Musk's career is any indication, the world would be far richer if many more of us were to do so.

last five articles

#25 5 Signs You're Spending Too Much In Retirement

Author: Ethan Taylor

In 7 Signs You're Spending Too Little In Retirement, we explored signs that you're spending too little in retirement. We learned that not spending enough can be a major issue. The bigger problem, of course, is spending too much because, for the most part, when the money is gone, you can't get it ... see more

#1257 A Quick Guide on How to Insure Jewelry

Author: Ethan Smith

Some of the most valuable assets in your home may be unprotected.We're talking about your fine jewelry: your diamond engagement ring, the vintage Rolex Dad left you, the black-pearl necklace you picked up in Tahiti. Sure, you most likely have a comprehensive insurance policy covering your ... see more

#1811 What to Do When You Are Underpaid

Author: Ethan Smith

What do you do when your work isn't being valued for what it is worth? Being underpaid makes work unpleasant in the short term and can harm your long-term earning potential. Here are some strategies to help you earn the pay that you deserve.Do Your ResearchDo you feel that you are underpai... see more

#1436 Tax Breaks for Volunteering

Author: Ethan Smith

Taxes probably aren't the first thing on your mind when you decide to get involved in a worthy cause. But your volunteer ventures could still earn you some welcome deductions.First, however, make sure that the organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. As a general r... see more

#1153 Understanding Credit Card Balance Transfers

Author: Christopher Taylor

The 0% introductory interest rate on balance transfers is a common perk of credit cards targeted to consumers with good to excellent credit. While this offer looks great on the surface, people who take advantage of it might find themselves on the hook for unexpected interest charges.The pr... see more