Life lessons from Elon Musk, Winston Churchill and my Grandma Lois

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It’s the end of the summer holiday season and most of us will have taken some time out from work to relax and enjoy the company of friends and family. A chance to recharge the batteries and often a chance to restore perspective.

Ironically Elon Musk, CEO & founder of Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, has not taken the time to recharge.

The headlines would suggest that he needs the rest more than most. “This year has been the most difficult and painful year of my life” he said in a recent New York Times interview.

He went on to reveal that he has been working 120 hours a week, often sleeping in his factory and not leaving for 3 or 4 days at a time, including the entire 24 hours of his birthday. He also confessed that when he isn’t working he struggles to sleep and resorts to taking sedatives. The result? Several poorly judged public statements which generated scathing headlines and damaged his reputation. He tweeted that a heroic rescue diver in Thailand was a “paedo guy” and accused analysts of asking “bonehead” questions. Musk has since apologised and blamed sleep deprivation. So, not the outcome you hoped for after all those hours of work Elon. And that’s not the worst of it. He further revealed “This really has come at the expense of seeing my kids and seeing my friends”

Surely he could see the signs. Surely his friends and family have been warning him to change. But Elon had lost perspective.

It reminds me of 2 other stories. One of Winston Churchill and another closer to home…

Winston Churchill, our national hero, at the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940 was showing so much strain that his long-suffering wife Clementine penned him a very personal and direct letter. She told him the strain was affecting his behaviour and implored him to be more mindful of how he interacted with others. It was a brave and personal plea which could only come from someone so close to the anxious PM. She signed off “Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful Clemmie”. The rest as they say is history!

Such stress and strain is not the preserve of Prime Ministers in war or leaders in global industry. In fact it is far too common throughout the modern workplace. The statistics on stress are themselves enough to induce anxiety on the part of anyone who cares to listen.

I am thankful to my Grandma Lois who, in 2001, wrote me a similar letter to that of Clementine Churchill. I was working very long hours, verging on burnout. The strain was evident in my personality, my health, my judgement and my relationships with friends and family. The letter was personal, frank and it was brave. She knew she risked a negative reaction with potentially disastrous consequences for our relationship. But she loved me too much to stay quiet. Thankfully her message hit home. It made me stop and think. Later that year I resigned my position and took some time out. The following year Grandma Lois passed away. I still have the letter and I will be eternally thankful for her wisdom.

So, what can you learn from Elon Musk, Winston Churchill and my Grandma Lois?

Are you feeling the pain and pressure at the moment or are you helping to relieve it?

If you want to change, start like me, by taking some time to listen to those around you who love you enough to tell you straight.

My mission now is to help others to avoid a similar fate to that of Elon Musk. Coaching and developing leaders and teams to work smarter, achieve more and live better.


Written By: Simon Goodison