What the Early Life of Elon Musk Can Teach Us About Being Great

Elon Musk is without  doubt one of the great visionaries of our age. But how did he get there? 

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


Elon Musk is without a doubt one of the greatest visionaries of our age - taking risks, achieving seemingly impossible feats and setting ambitious goals in a way that few others have. But as we’ve learned from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers extraordinary individuals are products of a complex interplay of factors... many of which beyond their control. Yet the life of Elon Musk holds lessons and tips that all of us could learn from and apply.

Circumstances, for example, have played a significant role in Musk’s path to success - like the fact that his father was an engineer and that he made Musk work with him since the age of 14, as well as provided startup capital for his first business.

The personal qualities, habits, and skills Musk has been developing since childhood are also an inseparable part of his success. His commitment to continuous learning, for example, is evident since he was 8 and read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, because there were no more books left in the library to read. 

He was also unafraid of hard work like shoveling dirt in a boiler room and was actively seeking hands-on experience by cold-calling execs to get a job. There is also his massive appetite for risk, perseverance, and ability to move on from failures: attitudes and skills that have pushed him through venture after venture each more ambitious and profitable than the one before despite numerous setbacks, doubt, and criticism. 


Stemming from his circumstances and the character he has built are the decisions Musk has made along the way, which have ultimately led him to where he is today. As early as 9 years old he made a pivotal and unlikely decision to live with his father after the divorce of his parents, an experience he would later describe as “misery”. Musk still refuses to introduce his own children to his father, which is a testament to how difficult living with his dad must have been. But it is also this adversity that he faced early on in life (along with being bullied at school) that Musk credits for building a strong character. 

The following infographic created by Anna Vital, published in Funders and Founders, guides us through Musk’s life looking for some of the factors and key moments that have shaped his success. 

Infographic by Anna Vital, Mark Vital and Alex Unak.

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