As I drudge myself out of bed for 1) yet another war with monotony, 2) a battle with my fat-old-man eating habits, 3) a valiant clash of wills with my 2nd-grader’s militant stand against doing their homework, and 4) an overall feeling of blech due to our country’s unsteady Coronovirus response, I discovered this article lionizing a quote Elon Musk gave to TED in 2017:
If you’re not progressing, you’re regressing; so, keep moving forward.GetPocket article from Jan. 12, 2020 titled, “Elon Musk Gave Some Brilliant Career Advice. Here It Is in One Sentence“
“What rubbish!” I imagine myself saying in my most British accent! Sometimes all we can do is wake up and face another day and continue to beat ourselves up over our slide into decadent fatness, and you want me to show progress?!
Elon Musk Does Not Operate In Our Reality
How would you like to be handed $165 million cash on your 31st birthday? That’s what Elon Musk received for selling out to eBay in 2002. So let’s just start there – People with $165 million in the bank play by a different set of rules – they have options, nannies, a legion of lawyers at their disposal, time for yoga, a yard with trees, and enough money to last many, many lifetimes for them and their abhorrible heirs. No wonder that someone without a care in the world beyond their own ego inspires something as dumb as: “If you’re not progressing, you’re regressing; so, keep moving forward.” If your only hurdle upon waking up in your plush luxury home, green pastures beckoning before you, is to ask, “Should I make progress?”, then the answer is obvious: “Yes, I’ll choose progress.” But for the rest of us out here struggling to do 10 minutes of uninterrupted yoga while their son is watching the most horrible humans do criminal-worthy stunts on Youtube and while their 2-year-old is occupied with a pen and paper and hopefully not drawing on the piano…it’s a completely different set of questions before us.
The heady concept of “progress” on some days is dwarfed by simpleton questions like, “How can I get to the grocery store today?” and “How can I work up the willpower to shower?” When you’ve got nobody watching or caring if you show up to impress today, and, frankly, no reason to do much of anything other than the fact that you’re trying to avoid a slide into revolting slothness that would set a bad example for your kids, “progress” is in tragic danger of being replaced by “lethargy” or worse (obsequiousness as a strategy).
Don’t Aspire to Be Elon.
Elon Musk and his hyper-masculine, winner-take-all, consuming-all-in-their-path breed offer only one path forward, and it’s not a good one for most of us. I’ve witnessed numerous friends succumb to his tragic, agitated worldview, and it hasn’t worked out well for them thus far, at least as far as my limited sight can see. I’ve watched them mirror Musk’s self idolatry with none of the F.U. money that seems to make horribleness forgiveable in our culture. But thankfully for them and us, all is not lost! The antidote to Musk’s poison is…Calm.
Calm people running calm companies live in a reality where progress is made incrementally and in step with the real world. A reality where a day consumed with the battle of trying to get your kids to do their homework and eat healthy foods is a good battle to fight at the expense of business dominance. There will always be billionaire Unicorns that flout their b.s. “Here’s how to do it” methodologies and young adults who recommend starting every day with an hour of yoga — Those people can be forgiven for their lack of worldview-depth, because they have never faced the reality that we face every day. Therefore and thankfully, we need not aspire to be them when we have a perfectly perfect them to aspire to be: a them who is looking us in the eye in the mirror asking us with healing empathy, “Maybe change your underwear today?” And whatever our answer to that most basic and important question – know that your answer is the perfect answer in this moment — and also know that Elon Musk has never faced himself down in the mirror, asked “the underwear question”, and demanded an answer.
Resources & Notes:
- I struggled to find the right word before landing on “obsequious”. From vocabulary.com: “Obsequious people are usually not being genuine; they resort to flattery and other fawning ways to stay in the good graces of authority figures. An obsequious person can be called a bootlicker, a brownnoser or a toady.” Sadly and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve resorted to this strategy on occasion (or its close cousin, “just nod and smile”) just to make it through the day, and I always feel gross about it afterwards.
- There’s a whole book on the subject of building a calm company: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work