Have We Pushed Elon Musk Too Far?

Musk appears to be falling apart, and we're to blame.
August 28, 2018
10 mins read

Elon Musk is a lot of things. He’s young, brash, rich and famous. Chances are, anyone you ask will know who he is, has heard of the companies he runs,or both. Beyond those identifiers though, Musk is controversial. Those same people you ask will likely all have differing opinions on who he is and what exactly he does. To some, he’s a visionary who is changing the world, while others view him as somebody who pushes further than he should and will crash and burn.

There may be a bit of truth to each view but regardless, the fact is that Musk has played a very important role in the world for the last few years. The companies he runs and helped found — Tesla and SpaceX — have pushed technology in their fields to places they had not been before. The electric car market was stagnant and dying before Musk came along, and space travel was more science-fiction than reality.

Musk’s companies helped change those perceptions and put the ideas behind each company in a realistic spot. His work with solar panels and batteries hves also helped push the edges of renewable energy.

Musk has had some effect on the world, that is not debatable. Some outlets have even resorted to calling him the most important billionaire of this generation, and Musk eats that attention up. Perhaps it’s that type of attention that helps push to strive for greatness in life. It’s also starting to break him, though.

If you haven’t been following Musk in the news lately, a few troubling incidents have occurred in the past few months. A recent tweet of his caused Tesla stock to rocket up 7 percent in one day and invited investigation by the SEC for tampering with the stock market.

In reaction to the tweet, it was suggested that Musk was using recreational drugs that had clouded his judgment. The spotlight shined on him ratcheted up even higher as his clean image began to sully and, in a recent interview with The New York Times, it seems as if that focus on Musk is finally getting to him. “This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” he says in the interview. “It was excruciating.”

Over the course of an hour-long interview, Musk opens up about his life and what it has been like since the world turned its collective focus on him. Choking back tears, he recalls 120-hour work weeks, missing his brother’s wedding and spending the entire 24 hours of his birthday locked up in his factory. “It’s not been great, actually.” Musk adds when asked about how he has been holding up. “I’ve had friends come by who are really concerned.”

Even without the interview though, rumors had been swirling for months about the entrepreneur. Musk’s extreme work schedule is a big cause for concern among his supporters and reports had come out in the past that the board of directors for SpaceX and Tesla were trying to find someone to take over parts of his job for him. There were even suggestions that each company had tried to bring about a vote to remove him from his post.

In some part, these rumors have turned out to be true. Musk recalls that to sleep at night he has to take Ambien, stating that it’s often a choice between the sleep aid or no sleep at all. While the calls from board members to have him removed have proven false, it is true that his companies have been trying to find him help in the form of someone to offset some of his workload.

The problem with that, Musk clarifies, is one that is not of his own making. “If you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now.”

This is not bravado from a confident man. Those words are an indicator of the pressure Musk faces and the extremes he feels he needs to meet expectations.

Consider that when a problem in the world arises, people tend to expect that Musk can fix it. He does not have a degree in engineering, but few can dispute his prowess for it at this point. Engineers are good at coming up with solutions to problems, so Musk must be good at that too, right?

The problem is that none of the issues presented to Musk are things he should be meddling in. Calls for him to help in the Thai Cave Rescue resulted in him stepping up to the plate to try to do something, but those trapped boys were never his concern to begin with. Men and women trained to do those types of rescues were already on the scene, and Musk’s help was not needed.

Likewise, when a random tweet prompted Musk to reach out and help Flint with its tainted water problems, he stepped up once more to try and find some sort of solution to the problem despite it again being none of his business.

Neither one of these instances of Musk reaching out to help are the problem. He has a ton of money, and if he wants to help others, he should go for it. The real problem is that none of these problems are something he is equipped to deal with, yet he’s expected to solve them anyway.

The reason is that, for some people, Musk is bordering on the line of being a superhero. He’s often compared to Iron Man. If the world needs saving, turn to Musk and ask for a solution.

This is the type of pressure that society has placed on his shoulders. Not only is Musk looked at to deliver renewable energy, electric cars and to one day colonize Mars, he is also expected to solve all the worlds problems whether he is capable of doing so or not.

Do not confuse these calls for actions as requests though. For Musk, there is no room for failure. Either he solves the problem given to him or he is treated as a charlatan in what he is trying to do. His device to help the soccer team trapped in a cave was not used, and Musk was accused of trying to drum up good publicity for himself. Should he be unable to aid Flint with their water crisis people will again accuse him of trying to manipulate a situation to make himself look good.

There is no winning no matter what he does, and we are all to blame. Musk is not a superhero. Behind all the money, fame and brilliance he is a man. He has trouble sleeping, can’t seem to balance his personal life with his work life and tries to take on more than he should. Musk cannot solve the world’s problems on his own but the fact of the matter is that we are all pushing him to try to anyway. Now that pressure is beginning to break him down, and every one of us is to blame.

Caleb Edwards, Michigan State University

Writer Profile

Caleb Edwards

Michigan State University
Professional Writing

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