Elon Musk is one of the world’s most successful vision leaders, but without the courage to take risks for what he believes in, he probably wouldn’t be where he is today. In fact, he almost lost everything… Twice.
“In 2008, with the U.S. economy at its very lowest, Tesla felt the financial strain that many companies across the nation were experiencing. Unable to deliver its first car and at severe risk of losing everything it had built, Musk leaned forward and took a risk.
He stepped up and “doubled down” on Tesla by investing his last $35 million in cash. The gutsy move paid off: Tesla is now worth $2.5 billion. The company continues to push ahead by taking calculated risks through private loans and stock management.”
At the same time, his biggest endeavor SpaceX almost went under after three failed rocket launch attempts. It is reported that by the fourth attempt he couldn’t even fund the company’s payrolls.
“When I started SpaceX, dedicated to reducing the cost and increasing the reliability of space missions, I’d never been involved in designing anything and had no experience in the aerospace industry. I even ended up pouring in most of the capital from the sale of PayPal.”
The fourth launch was successful and he won a $1.5 billion contract with NASA in December of 2008. He risked everything he had ever built on his vision and it paid off.
This is obviously an example of risk taking to the extreme. However, I fully understand why Elon was willing to go so far. His sheer conviction in his vision meant that from the start, he was never going to give up.
In fact, in a 60 Minutes interview he was asked, “after that third failure in a row, did you think ‘I need to pack this in.’”
He replied, “never… I don’t ever give up. I mean, I’d have to be dead or completely incapacitated.”
A vital truth about the world’s most successful people is that they really do whatever it takes. It’s not just an expression, it’s a duty if you truly believe in something.
Here’s why you should start taking more risks to get everything you will ever want.
YOU HAVE TIME
Time is your greatest asset, and when you’re young, you have an abundance of it. Where most people go wrong is that they see their wealth of time as an opportunity to waste it on things that don’t matter. Instead, pursue what you love because even if your risks don’t pay off, you’ve still got a whole lot of time to keep pushing despite initial failures. When you’re young, you also don’t have a whole lot of responsibilities. This is the perfect time to invest your time and earnings in something meaningful because you only have yourself to provide for.
Some of the most successful companies were started in garages. Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak started building the first Apple computers in Jobs’s parents’ garage, Jeff Bezos created Amazon in 1994 out of his parents’ garage, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google in Brin’s sister-in-law’s garage. Now is the time to live below your means so you can reap the rewards later. So what if turning your idea into a business means you have to put off college or get a shitty bar job to fund yourself – there will be people ahead of you now, but don’t base your success on your current situation and never compare yourself to others. Only do what you know is right for you – if you put in the effort, time will be good to you, and eventually everything will become clear.
Risk Over Regret
Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D, Professor of human development, asked hundreds of elderly Americans what their biggest regret was when looking back on their lives. What he found was unexpected, but profound.
The majority said something along the lines of this: I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying. For the most part, these people had no regrets about what they did, but regretted what they didn’t do out of fear; in particular, worrying about the future.
I always look to my elders in getting life advice – their years of experience usually yield some incredible nuggets of wisdom that I never take lightly, even if I disagree. And this is something that has stuck with me since I first read it. If the one thing elderly people are discontented with about their entire life is worrying, I see that as a clear indication that risk taking is a vital part of living a fulfilled life.
I’m not talking about jumping out of planes or anything, I’m talking about taking risks that could have a positive outcome so meaningful to you that the negative outcome doesn’t matter. If you want to be fulfilled in life, getting out of your comfort zone is vital. You must be bigger than your fear and take the risks that are necessary to your vision.
What’s the worst that can happen?
As mentioned above, take the risks where the rewards outweigh the potential losses. Personally, I chose not to go to university but instead start a business. I was filled with fear and self-doubt, and everyone around me told me that I should go to university ‘in case it doesn’t work out.’ The safe option is a fatal trap because once you’re hooked, you get too comfortable. Being uncomfortable is guaranteed to make you more hungry to get what you want.
Okay, people are just trying to be nice when they advise you to be realistic. But that advice often comes from their own limitations. They may personally prefer the safe option, but you have to stay true to yourself. I believe that in order to succeed, you have to burn all your bridges so that success is your only option. This is what Elon Musk and many other visionaries have done.
You know why it always pays off? Because their self-belief is so strong that taking the risk doesn’t scare them. They’d rather just go for it with everything they’ve got and potentially fail than take the easy, ‘safe’ option and live a mediocre life. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. The only option is to keep trying. I’d rather try and fail doing what I love for my whole life than accept mediocrity as my limit.
Become a Leader
Here’s a quote taken from my recent post on LifeHack:
“Never settle for what you may think is already true – be open to new ideas and take risks that could potentially work out better than what you’re currently doing.”
Leaders don’t take anything at face value: they challenge the status quo, innovate and take risks in order to realize their vision. Managers do what is accepted and never go out of their circle of influence because they believe staying safe is the only way to succeed. In reality, the people who get what they want are the people who do anything to get it. And if that involves risking everything, then so be it. To pursue your own dreams, you have to be a leader, and taking risks is part and parcel of being a leader.
Risk taking pushes your boundaries
I recently read Alan Sugar’s autobiography, and in it he mentions a time when Rupert Murdoch approached him as a potential business partner in the making of Sky satellite TV in England. Alan proposed that in order for the new company to be successful, Murdoch would have to offer 16 new TV channels and Sugar would create satellite receiving equipment to be sold at £199.
This was an entirely new industry, and using satellite dishes rather than antennas on TVs to pick up extra channels was unheard of at the time. However, Sugar was so confident that the price he came up with was vital for the business to succeed, that he agreed to produce the satellites in eight months and even announced the new product at a press conference in front of the entire country. A major retailer even agreed to place a 500,000 unit order. He had no idea how he was going to do it.
The massive risk paid off hugely. Sugar was forced to find ways to manufacture the dishes at an extremely low price by sourcing the materials in unconventional ways. It just goes to show that following your gut instinct and making big commitments pushes you to go beyond your limits and do whatever it takes, even if you are seemingly making the impossible, possible.
In the end, it all comes down to mindset. Most people have a ‘short term’ mindset, meaning they would rather be comfortable now than successful later. As soon as you are willing to sacrifice now and face the fear of the unknown, you will immediately start to grow. You may not see the results for a long time, but knowing that what you are doing is for a greater cause no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel will give you the strength to push through anything that comes your way.