Why Elon Musk Survived on a Dollar a Day


The best practice to prepare for the worst

The gentleman makes things his servants. The petty man is servant to things — Xunzi

There was one man who Alexander the Great couldn’t do anything about. He couldn’t lure him with riches, nor threaten him to take his possession. His name was Diogenes, the founder of Cynicism.

The meeting between Diogenes and Alexander is one of the most cited anecdotes with an alarming lesson.

According to a legend, when Alexnder came to visit Diogenes, the philosopher did not take the slightest note of the emperor’s presence. He was enjoying his leisure basking in the sun.

Blocking the light that Diogenes was happily basking in, Alexander came to fulfill his wishes. He asked Diogenes if he wanted anything.

“Yes”, Diogenes replied, “stand a little out of my sun.”

It’s not often that the emperor himself insists to give you something. You could ask for a gift so precious that can set you up for life.

But no, Diogenes, denied without hesitation. The people saw it as an act of disrespect.

But as Alexander’s followers were joking about Diogenes, Alexander said, “But truly if I were not Alexander, I wish I were Diogenes.”

Such is the power of poverty, figuratively.

When I talk about poverty, I mean poverty as a condition, not as a mindset.

Poverty as a mindset is one of the limitations. Where you believe that you cannot have what you want. That the world and your achievements are limited. That is, by no means, the goal.

However, poverty as a condition is powerful. Especially when practiced consciously.

The Stoics talk about this all the time.

“Appoint certain days on which to give up everything and make yourself at home with next to nothing. Start cultivating a relationship with poverty. For no one is worthy of god unless he has paid no heed to riches. I am not, mind you, against your possessing them, but I want to ensure that you possess them without tremors; and this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without them, and by always regarding them as being on the point of vanishing” — Seneca

Here’s why you should make this an active part of your life.

You Don’t Need Your Stuff

So it is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep with greater toil — Seneca

Diogenes, in the above case, may not be the best person to emulate. He’s the modern-day version of an extreme minimalist.

He lived in a barrel and walked around naked. When he saw a child using his hands to drink water from the well, he smashed his cup because he was carrying an extra possession.

While we don’t need to go that far, we should take into account the value our possessions really give us. To see what we own, to question why we own it, and to try living without it.

Because if you don’t, you’ll be enslaved by your own riches which you worked tirelessly to acquire.

Think about it.

When you buy an extra car you don’t need it, you’re not only wasting money but you’re wasting your life. You worked hard in the first place to afford that car. Then you’ll have to work even harder to sustain the car — fuel, insurance, maintenance, and whatnot.

That is what we call golden handcuffs. Millennials who buy big houses, fancy watches, sports cars, and swimming pools are actually adding a link to the chains that trap them.

Because once you acquire these things, you’re trapped into working harder to maintain them. If tomorrow you realize that your passion lies in something completely different, you cannot start anew. You need a high income to maintain your lifestyle.

And thus you’re stuck for life unless you get rid of your stuff.

The pleasure of not having it is better than the fear of losing it

Get Uncomfortable

With time, humans are becoming softer and softer.

What took months to purchase a decade ago, will now arrive at your doorstep in a day.

You don’t need to go out to watch movies, you have Netflix.

You don’t need to hang out with friends, you have social media.

You don’t need to find dates, you have Tinder.

When everything is available at our fingertips, when we take the path of least resistance, we become couch potatoes.

The more you chase comfort, the weaker you become. The more you chase discomfort, the stronger you become.

That’s how it works.

Getting rid of your convenience can be challenging. And it’s good. You appreciate what’s in front of you more. You stop taking things for granted. And you find happiness in the little things.

Prepare Yourself for Everything

Life will kick you in the rear. A lot.

There will be recessions, pandemics, accidents, heartbreaks, rejection, and attacks on your mental, physical, and spiritual life.

The reason we fear this is because we don’t really know how it feels. We don’t know how it feels if our income is cut by 80% tomorrow.

We don’t know how it feels to have your business shut down.

And we fear because we don’t know.

As a kid, I developed an aversion to swimming. I cried when someone tried to push me into the pool. But when I finally went in, I realized it wasn’t so bad.

We’ve to learn to do the same with our lives. Elon Musk did it. And it sure as hell helped him.

As a young kid, back in 1990, he survived on $1 a day food-wise.

Why? Becuase if all you need is $1 to feed yourself, there’s no reason to fear anything — you can always earn $30 a month.

“I figured I could be in some dingy apartment with my computer and be okay and not starve” — Elon

Years later, he put a lot of his money to save Tesla and SpaceX. He stopped traveling in his jet and used Southwest instead. He said,

“My proceeds from the PayPal acquisition were $180 million. I put $100 million in SpaceX, $70m in Tesla, and $10m in Solar City. I had to borrow money for rent.”

While he didn’t say that eating for a dollar a day prepared him to pump millions of dollars and go broke, we can draw a reasonable conclusion.

Once you know that rock bottom isn’t really that bad, you can live fearlessly.

Once you get rid of extraneous possessions you can live freely.

How to Practice Poverty

Decide the aspect of your life in which you want to apply this philosophy. Have a look at your possessions.

Food, clothes, furniture, cars, houses, and everything else.

Pick something challenging.

If food is a concern, then fast one day a week.

If clothes are a concern, lock up the clothes you like and live without them for a week.

Try to live without what you consider normal and what you take for granted. Your possessions are not a problem. But your dependency on them is.

If you practice this enough and consistently, there will be nothing that anyone can take away from you. Nothing anyone can do to harm you.

Break out of the chain of slavery. Live freely.

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Written on August 22, 2020