The Buddha-Elon Musk Paradox

(Photo: Petr & Bara Ruzicka/Flickr)

(Photo: Petr & Bara Ruzicka/Flickr)

Should I save up some money and just move to Thailand? Chill out and lay on the beach like Buddha? Is that the meaning of life? Is that how I’ll find true happiness?

Or, should I be like Elon Musk and hustle hard? Start companies, work around the clock, make a ton of money, and help build a better tomorrow for the world?

Is my career worthwhile? Am I passionate about my work? Am I wasting my time? How can I achieve happiness?

All these questions are symptoms of striking a balance between Buddha and Elon Musk, between being zen and being a shark, between complacency and ambition, between meditation retreats and work binges trying to solve the world’s problems.

There are many uncertainties people have about their life that are rooted in finding a balance between “Buddha” and “Elon Musk.” Below is part one of a three part series.

Buddha vs Elon Musk

“Failing is an option here. If you’re not failing, you’re not innovating enough”  —  Elon Musk

Elon Musk sold his first company, Paypal, for over a billion dollars. That’s enough to retire on and save enough money so his grandkids never have to work a single day.

But, he didn’t retire. Instead, he used all of his proceeds to start three more companies. Now, he’s working on taking humans to Mars.

To be like Elon Musk is to be ambitious and have a mindset that anything is possible. Elon musk will always push for a better tomorrow and never be satisfied, but always be stressed, striving to get better.

Buddha, on the other hand, spent 49 days meditating at the age of 35. It was then that he found enlightenment and dedicated the rest of his life to teaching others how to do the same.

Being like Buddha is accepting reality and having the mindset that everything is always good no matter what. Being Buddha means seeing the positive in all the situations and generally being happy and content no matter what. Always having enough, always thinking positively, always thinking the glass is half full and taking pleasure in small things.

This is quite different from somebody like Tony Robbins or The Wolf on Wall Street who is more like Elon Musk. They are rarely satisfied. They’re wildly ambitious and will do whatever it takes to achieve success or solve important problems

Striking the Perfect Balance

(Photo: Winnifredxoxo/Flickr)

(Photo: Winnifredxoxo/Flickr)

A study done at Princeton University proved that “People with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities.’’

There are many people that won’t be happy even if they have it all. A huge business, a big house, fancy cars, etc. doesn’t guarantee happiness.

Now, conversely I know some people who can be happy with anything. They can be happy sitting on a beach somewhere, while being poor, or even all alone without any friends or relationships.

The downside of this is you don’t necessarily create anything; you don’t make much contribution to society. You don’t set goals, and without goals, you don’t progress. Some people may find it boring and they may not be content in these situations. For them, they have this desire to do create something, and progress equals happiness. But sometimes, their current progress isn’t enough, leaving them unsatisfied.

In college and for years after graduation, I kept myself insanely busy all the time. I barely had time to think.

I would be at work all day, and by night I would either be networking or working even more. The only time you’d find me in my apartment was if I was going to sleep. On the weekends, I’d still be working or studying. Even if it wasn’t required by work or school, I felt like I had to be doing something.

This period of time flew by. It was very stressful and a lot of other aspects in my life suffered as a result. I didn’t have the best social life during this time, I wasn’t able to focus on my physical or mental health, and I wasn’t able to study and learn about important things outside of work.

Yes, I achieved some material success and bulked up my resume, but it came with downsides. I was being more like Elon Musk and not at all like Buddha.

Fast forward to 2015, when I was able to enjoy some fruits of my labor. I had been working for about 40 hours a week, which to me wasn’t much relative to my earlier working habits.

I was able to enjoy an adjustable work schedule as well as a flexible location as to where I work. I could work from almost anywhere, and I could to choose my own hours.

So, this gave me the opportunity to be more like Buddha. I was able to gain some self knowledge and relax a little bit. Because I could take time to relax whenever I needed a break, I was able to listen to myself think and really get to know myself better.

I’ve also been able to learn about things that interest me outside of work. I’ve studied philosophy, which has been extremely beneficial in helping me think and see the world. It has helped me to think about bigger and more impactful issues than just my personal finances and my immediate vision.

I’ve grown extremely grateful for what I have and I’ve learned to focus on that more often. This has helped me release a lot of anxiety, focus on the task at hand, and be a happier person overall.

But while my current lifestyle is great, there are definitely some downsides. There is limited upside in terms of how much money I can make. I can’t make “FU” money like Elon Musk.

The Challenge

I was at a lunch on a Friday afternoon and I sat across the table from someone who is more Elon Musk than I have been lately. He has spent his entire career working long, long hours in banking and private equity and is now a co-founder of a company. He’s very successful.

Despite his success, he seemed stressed. However, he thrives off stress. He enjoys putting a team together and building a business. He’s stressed, but he’s happy.

I have another friend who lives in central rural China, in a very rural area of China. He moved there from New York, so he is extremely Buddha right now. He has the time to read, write, and record YouTube videos. He’s been studying philosophy and internet marketing. I know he is happy, relaxed and healthy.

Stop Listening

Everyone’s happiness comes from a different blend of Elon Musk and Buddha. Nobody knows where the healthy balance is because they haven’t experienced it for themselves. Instead, we feed on everyone else’s opinion. However there are so many different opinions, biases, and sources you can be exposed to that you never really know who’s right or wrong.

If you’re in a big city, you’ll notice there’s a lot of people who are extremely motivated and materialistic. They want money. Their sense of happiness is dependent on the amount of money they earn. And that can work for some people.

Just recently, I took the same blood test results to three different doctors. Now, my blood test results is a serious matter; we’re talking about my life here!

Still, I received three different reactions and three different suggestions.

It’s not because any of these doctors were uninformed or unintelligent. It’s because they have all seen research supporting different conclusions. They all have different backgrounds, different biases, and different sources and therefore different suggestions. I don’t think any of them are necessarily wrong.

It’s often hard to come to clear conclusions simply because there’s so much information in the world. Google almost any question, and I’m sure you can find dozens of articles giving you conflicting advice.

But, listening to other people’s advice can only get you so far. At some point, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. We’ll cover that in part two. Subscribe to me on Medium for updates.

Mike Fishbein is an author, content marketer, podcaster, and entrepreneur who writes about startup marketing and personal development at mfishbein.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @mfishbein.

The Buddha-Elon Musk Paradox