What’t it like to be an introvert?
Early on in my relationship with my extroverted wife, we went to a party together, and, at some point, I asked, “Would it be okay if we left in an hour?”
She said, “Sure.”
Then I got involved in a poker game and she could see I was having a blast. But, in the middle of the game, at exactly an hour from when I’d mentioned leaving, I said, “Okay, I’m ready to go.”
She was flabbergasted. “But you’re having fun!” she said. “I can see you’re having fun!”
“Yes, I am, but I still want to go.”
What she didn’t understand is that socializing feels, for me, like a fun but strenuous physical activity. If someone says, “I need to stop dancing now,” it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s having a bad time. He may just be tired.
It’s like I have a battery inside me that allows me to function socially for a certain length of time. When it’s drained, my social skills vanish, whether I’ve been having a good time or not. And I feel a tremendous need to be by myself and recharge.
This past winter, we were snowed into our apartment for nearly two weeks, and by the end of it, we were stir crazy. We needed to be around other people. I needed it as much as my wife did.
But, once we’d hung out with some friends, my social needs were met way before hers were. I stayed out until midnight or so, just to make her happy, but I got antsy to go home at around nine, and by 10:30, I was in agony.
Still, from about 5pm until 8:30, we were both having fun.
– Marcus Geduld
What is it like to work with Elon Musk?
After working for Elon for over 5 years at SpaceX as the Head of Talent Acquisition, there are many potential answers to this question. Any answer I might give will be completely colored by my own experiences, so full disclaimer this is not an unbiased piece free of personal narrative.
It is said that you cannot dream yourself a character; you must hammer and forge one yourself. If any leader and any company has done that, and continues to do that it is SpaceX. To try and capture in words what working with Elon is like, I’d like to share some specific memories, particularly of one really rough day and its epic aftermath.
On Aug 2 2008, 8 months after I joined the company, SpaceX launched its third flight of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle. Falcon 1 was the predecessor to the Falcon 9 launch vehicles that the company flies today.
It was a defining moment for the company. Elon had a couple years prior stated in the press that his $100M personal investment in the company would get us up to 3 tries and if we couldn’t be successful by the third flight we may have to admit defeat. In addition to the pressure created by this narrative in the press, the lobbyist armies of our competitors (largest, most powerful defense contractors in the world) had been in overdrive in DC trying to undermine SpaceX and damage our credibility by painting us as too risky and inexperienced in order to protect their multi-billion dollar interests in the space launch business.
SpaceX executed a picture perfect flight of the first stage (portion of the flight that gets the vehicle away from Earth’s gravity and where the vehicle experiences max Q/maximum dynamic pressure, or basically where the conditions on the vehicle are physically the harshest) clearing some of the highest risk points of mission.
However, shortly after the first stage flight, immediately following stage separation (when the first stage of the vehicle detaches and falls away from the 2nd stage of the vehicle which continues its journey to space) we lost the vehicle and mission.
SpaceX, VP of Propulsion Tom Mueller, the modern day godfather of rocket science and one of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet, and his team had done such a great job redesigning the vehicles engines systems that they were even more efficient and powerful than in some ways projected.
We turned off the first stage engine, and then proceeded to separate the vehicle stages; however when the stages uncoupled there was still a little leftover ‘kick’ or thrust in the first stage engine- so our first stage literally rear ended our second stage immediately after we had tried to separate the two sections of the vehicle. It was a devastating emotional experience.
I stood around with the then 350 or so employees, and we cheered the vehicle on as it took off, and as we were watching the mission clock and knew that the stages were about to separate – the video feed was cut. The company is on a 20 second viewing delay from the mission control team as we are being projected the external press feed which is delayed in case of major mission anomalies. So when we lost video, we knew something had gone wrong in a big way.
Elon and about 7-8 of the most senior technical people at SpaceX were commanding the mission from a trailer in the back of the Hawthorne factory; and we all waited anxiously for the trailer door to open and for someone to tell us something. The mood in the building hung thick with despair; you have to keep in mind that by this point SpaceX was 6 years old, and many people have been working 70-80+ hours a week, swimming against extremely powerful currents, like difficult barriers in technology, institution, politics, and finance- by sheer force of their blood and sweat.
They had all given so much, were mentally and physically exhausted, and really needed a win in order to replenish their spiritual wells and give them the faith to keep following this man up a treacherous mountain that had depleted the hopes and resources of the many others who had come to conquer it.
This night would forever impact the future of the company, it had the potential to send the company into a downward spiral, from which we may not have ever recovered. A failure in leadership would have destroyed us not only from the eyes of the press or potential consumers but it would have destroyed us internally.
When Elon came out he walked past the press and first addressed the company. Although his exact words escape me in how he started off, the essence of his comments were that:
- We knew this was going to be hard, it is after all rocket science; then listed the half dozen or so countries who had failed to even successfully execute a first stage flight and get to outer space, a feat we had accomplished successfully that day.
- Elon has (in his infinite wisdom) prepared for the possibility of an issue with the flight by taking on a significant investment (from Draper Fisher Jurvetson if I recall correctly) providing SpaceX with ample financial resources to attempt 2 more launches; giving us security until at least flight 5 if needed.
- And that we need to pick ourselves up, and dust ourselves off, because we have a lot of work to do. Then he said, with as much fortitude and ferocity as he could muster after having been awake for like 20+ hours by this point that, “”For my part, I will never give up and I mean never,” and that if we stick with him, we will win.
I think most of us would have followed him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil after that. It was the most impressive display of leadership that I have ever witnessed. Within moments the energy of the building went from despair and defeat to a massive buzz of determination as people began to focus on moving forward instead of looking back. This shift happened collectively, across all 300+ people in a matter of not more than 5 seconds. I wish I had video footage as I would love to analyze the shifts in body language that occurred over those 5 seconds. It was an unbelievably powerful experience.
What happened in the days and weeks following that night is nothing short of a series of miracles:
- Within a matter of hours the SpaceX team identified the likely cause of the launch failure. Typically turnaround time from others in the launch business can range from weeks to months for failure investigations. Our team combed through every ounce of data to make sure we understood exactly what went wrong as quickly as possible.
- By Aug 6th we announced the results of our investigation and came 100% clean with our supporters and customer community in order to make sure we could retain their trust in this difficult time. (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation)
- In 7 weeks, we had another rocket fully manufactured, integrated and on location ready to fly again. No one else could have done this in less than 6 months with unlimited human and financial resources; SpaceX did it in 6 weeks, with less than 400 people and on a restricted financial diet.
- On Sept 28 2008, SpaceX flew its Falcon 1 launch vehicle from Kwajalein Atoll in the south pacific and executed its first 100% successful launch becoming the world’s first privately built rocket to achieve earth orbit. An accomplishment of truly epic portions and a task previously completed by only 6 mightiest nations in the history of the world. A much needed and much deserved victory for the entire SpaceX team and as it hopefully will turn out the future of humanity overall.
So for those who ask the question, this is in my opinion the true character of Elon Musk. Undeterred in the face of all odds, undaunted by the fear of failure, and forged in the battlefields of some of the most terrifyingly technical, and capital intensive challenges that any human being could choose to take on. Somehow he comes out alive, every time – with the other guy’s head on a platter.
Working with him isn’t a comfortable experience, he is never satisfied with himself so he is never really satisfied with anyone around him. He pushes himself harder and harder and he pushes others around him the exact same way. The challenge is that he is a machine and the rest of us aren’t. So if you work for Elon you have to accept the discomfort. But in that discomfort is the kind of growth you can’t get anywhere else, and worth every ounce of blood and sweat.
How do I save for retirement?
I’m gonna take a whack at it. If it doesn’t help, feel free to ignore.
Two types of accounts: IRA vs 401K. IRAs are set up by you, and are flexible for investing. 401Ks are set up by your employer, and have investing limitations.
Let’s talk vocabularly. Putting money in, or depositing, is called a “contribution”. Taking money out, or making a withdrawel, is called “requesting a distribution”. Sometimes a retirement account is called a “contributory” account. It helps to know these simple things while managing the account.
Where to start? Well, if your employer offers a 401K with a match, go to that option first, because a match is free money. Otherwise, go to the IRA first because your investment options will be more flexible. Either way, you have a retirement account, and that’s the most important thing.
IRA max contribution per year is $5,500. 401K max contribution per year is $18,000. You can do both in a given year. There are limitations on the tax advantages if you do both. One limitation to note is that if you contribute even 1 cent to a 401K, you cannot deduct the IRA for that year. Another limitation occurs if you make too much. Be aware, but I won’t dive in for now because most people don’t have that problem. When in doubt, just pick IRA or 401K and just start making contributions towards the max.
Retirement accounts come in two flavors: Traditional vs Roth. Traditional gives you a tax advantage when you contribute/deposit (aka now). Roth gives you a tax advantage when you distribute/withdraw (aka when you retire). Do not delay your retirement savings just because you don’t fully understand this or are struggling to hash out the optimal strategy. It is better to just get started on contributing now. You can refine it later if you have the time and energy to improve it.
Just because your money is contributed does not mean it is invested! You have to pick investments. If you are not sure how, points (1) and (2) below describe simple ways to approach investing as an absolute beginner. Be aware that investing is not equivalent to wreckless gambling, but “timing the market” or “day trading” are not recommended. Contribute, buy funds, and hold them. Do this every year regardless of what the market is doing. This is called “dollar cost averaging”, a tried and trusted way of building wealth over time, through both bubbles and recessions.
NEW TO INVESTING – what do I invest in???
Method 1) Pick a low cost “index fund”, that is, a fund tracking a market index. A few popular indices: S&P500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Russell 3000, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index. Find funds using the RESEARCH option offered on their online dashboard. To purchase, execute a TRADE using a MARKET ORDER at the current market price. Stick to Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) as opposed to Mutual Funds. Stick to commission free funds, so that it doesn’t cost you anything to make the TRADE.
— OR —
Method 2) Use the portfolios suggested by the brokerage house you are set up with (eg. Schwab, Vanguard, Fidelity). They will suggest a portfolio of funds according to your “risk tolerance”. Funds include Large Cap (funds with large campanies), Small Cap (funds with small companies), International (funds for non-domestic companies, overseas), and Bond (funds full of bond from all levels of government and business). Visit their portfolios picker under something like RESEARCH -> EXCHANGE TRADED FUNDS -> ETF PORTFOLIOS, Pick your risk tolerance, they will suggest some mix of funds accordingly, and then TRADE into them.
- Note that funds cost money; 1% might sound small, but can cost you hundreds of thousands over thirty years of returns. Anything over about 0.5% in annual fees should be questioned or even avoided. For instance, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX) is under 0.1%. If you’re not sure, it is still better to get started with an expensive funds than it is to put this off.
What’s It Like To Have Depression
If you want perspective from someone who has suffered depression of what it actually feels like, I can offer what it felt like to me:
Imagine your head is like a whirlpool in a hurricane – thoughts are just whirling around (and around and around) in there. Positive thoughts float, and they just sit there on the surface until they are blown away, but negative thoughts get sucked into the whirlpool and spin around, repeating themselves over and over, and worse and worse, until you have arrived at the worst-case believable scenario, at which point they sink down the spout and you internalise them as truth. Worse, the whirlpool is mesmerising – it’s a natural disaster, a tidal wave, a train wreck, and you just can’t look away.
You can throw as many “chin up!”, “get over it”, “come out to this party”, “you’ll be OK” and “just get out of the house” comments at that as you like, but it won’t do shit. My mind will just force me to blow those comments off – I’ll probably ditch the party, or make some non-committal noise about leaving the house or cheering up, so I can get back to the whirlpool. Because, I’m USED to watching the whirlpool. In some sick (mentally sick) way, I LIKE that I have a whirlpool to watch.
When I’m sick enough, I’ll cling to the whirlpool as the only thing that makes me different, more realistic than those annoying little shits that keep asking me to go to parties and telling me to cheer up – what is there to cheer up about? The world is all going to end in fire eventually, everybody dies, what difference does it make when I die? If I killed myself, people might stop making their glib remarks that I should cheer up and go out partying – that would be nice – how awesome would it be to shut all of those bastards up, to make them feel what I feel for just one day?
At this point, the only thing stopping me was what it would do to the people I didn’t want to feel bad – my family. I couldn’t put them through that, even for revenge against everyone that didn’t care. (Remember, I’m talking from the perspective of my sick mind here). Don’t get me wrong, it was CLOSE. I was going through ways I could kill myself that I would be comfortable with. I explored my fear of dying in minute detail to find a scenario in which I would be able to kill myself. If my depression had gotten even a little worse, that would have been the end of me.
Do you know what helped to bring me back from the brink many times – helped to control the seething desire to do something drastic? Cutting myself. It helped me gain some control, helped me associate my mental anguish with physical pain so I could dissociate from it a little, treat it, know it.
I sought professional help, and ended up on a series of different antidepressants, all of which failed for one reason or another (some had bad side effects, which led me closer to suicide). But, then something remarkable happened while I was dosing up on one of them and getting counselling – I got into a relationship.
Now, I had to drop that antidepressant (I believe it was an NSRI), but having someone around me most of the time who would just listen to what I had to say, would let me vent and just HOLD me, that helped me get back to a place where I could get some perspective and climb my way out of the pit. It was a small improvement, but it was one that interrupted the whirlpool. The counsellor got me talking, and my partner kept listening and supporting me, and not forcing me to go anywhere or do anything I wasn’t OK doing.
You have to remember, that for me at least, going out was just a tiring way to get back to bed at night, depressed. It changed nothing, and because it tired me out, I actually felt worse, not better.
What was browsing the internet like before high speed internet?
Being a female, you’ll never understand the horrors us men had to endure as teenagers during the rise of digital porn. The days of dial up affected us all terribly. They were grin times. Did we have videos?! Hah! We had to wait one edge for a single image to load on the screen. As internet speed increased so did the amount we could access. Limewire became a new source. A new haven. But you never knew what you were getting and it always seemed to be the same clips circling around under different titles. I remember Charlie waited days for his to download. In the end it turned out to be nothing more than an ad to download mp3’s. He never made it, poor Charlie. The blue balls got to him in the end. Those times were hell on everyone. Then the uprising came. A road to a better and brighter world lied ahead. Internet speeds were finally fast enough to stream videos. No more would we have to store our pornography, making sure our folders were carefully hidden to save embarrassment upon discovery. Good times to behad by all were just ahead. But alas, those tines never came. Because every site that offered streamed videos charged a fee and finding a site that offered it for free, but wasn’t full of malware, was like finding that one oasis in the desert. Sure we could watch the preview videos, but a 3 minute clip just isn’t enough damn it! And then it came. Salvation. After all the hardships we had to endure, the internet exploded with a flurry of full-length, free, streaming porn sites. This day is now known as ‘The Day of the White Seas’. We lost many good men to the porn drought of the ‘noughtes’ but we fought on and persevered to make a better fapping world for the generations to come. We have overcame!