Elon Musk and Entrepreneurial Burn Out

Some fairly large headlines have been made in the business community over the last week or so related to Elon Musk. Some of the articles focus on how he plans on taking the company (Tesla) private, and others talk about how they believe he is “burning out” over comments he made about not sleeping. I think his desire to take the company private is a symptom of the cause of the so-called “burnout.” Let me explain.

There's no doubt Tesla has made tremendous waves in more than just the automotive industry. But can Elon Musk keep up his own pace?
There’s no doubt Tesla has made tremendous waves in more than just the automotive industry. But can Elon Musk keep up his own pace?

Though I should not even be mentioned in the same sentence as Elon Musk (yet), I understand the issues he is having more than the average person or non-entrepreneur. I’ve experienced some of the same struggles while building up my junk removal company and now Junk Removal Authority. Musk has a grander vision than almost any entrepreneur that has ever walked the Earth. He isn’t about building a large company and making a lot of money. Musk wants to colonize Mars and fundamentally change the way humans travel. By changing the way we travel, he is going to have a tremendous positive impact on our environment and the safety of travel. Once self-driving cars have been perfected, the cases of automobile accidents will be a statistical anomaly; you won’t have to worry about drunk driving, cars will be able to travel faster because they will communicate with each other, most people won’t have to own a car, you will simply use an app to summon one to your pickup point and have it take you to your destination, auto repair shops will have to be open 24/7 for maximum repair efficiency – the list goes on. Musk’s main motivation appears to be to fundamentally change the world he lives in for the better. What a vision. What a goal. What a purpose.

Musk appears to be an overall positive and confident person. I consider myself both as well. However, I do have times when I turn very negative and allow self doubt to creep in. Though I believe having a massive goal and purpose can provide you with limitless energy, I also believe that when things aren’t going as you hoped and dreamed, all that weight can come falling down on you. You’ve taken out loans, you’ve gotten investments from friends/family, you are employing people who rely on your job. What if this doesn’t work out? What if you fail? You are going to let all these people down. And all the effort you have put into this vision will have been for nothing. That’s a depressing feeling. That is “burn out.”

Most non-entrepreneurs believe an entrepreneur like Musk who works 120 hours a week is going to burn out. When he appears to have done so they will say, “I told you so.” They incorrectly believe that overworking caused the burnout. I think that is a bunch of BS. People don’t wear out physically if their purpose is large enough and things are going well. People burn out when they lose their purpose or things aren’t going as planned.


The Role Purpose Plays in Business

Let’s dig deeper. Elon Musk has a purpose – and a big one. I don’t think he has lost sight of it. But things are probably working a bit slower than he wanted and/or he has people fighting against him. When Henry Ford was starting and growing his car company, he endured constant pressure from shareholders. He wanted to build a car for everyone. The money was secondary. The shareholders wanted a return on their investment and were constantly hounding him for it. They finally shut down the original company. Ford said he would never again have to answer to shareholders.

I think Musk might be cut from the same cloth as Ford. He has a massive goal in mind and it isn’t money. It’s the purpose I outlined above. But all the shareholders want to do is maximize their return. Musk is stifled by all the time he has to devote to answering shareholders and their constant demand for a return. This is the type of pressure from “things not going as planned” that can lead to burn out.

The only other thing that can cause a true entrepreneur to burn out is a loss of purpose. After building Junk Doctors Junk Removal and Hauling to a $2 Million a year company, I faced this prospect. I had achieved my original goal. I had built a business that makes good money and can run mostly without me. Building the junk removal business was my goal. It was too small of a purpose at that point because I accomplished it. When I set it at 21 years old I believed it to be a big goal. It was. But I should have had another, larger goal in mind as I approached completion. I had lost my purpose.


Don’t Follow the Crowd – An Alternative to Franchising

One way my business partner, Christian, and I thought of expanding our junk removal business was through a junk removal franchise system for Junk Doctors. We’ve never been people who had any interest in following the herd. Every junk removal business that has ever scaled has done so by creating a junk removal franchise system. We didn’t want to follow suit. We wanted to do something different.

So we came up with the Junk Removal Authority. With Junk Removal Authority, we have a vision of touching hundreds of new and existing junk removal business owners and teaching them how to start and grow a junk removal business to the level we achieved or beyond. And once that has been achieved, we already have the next step figured out too. You’ll know what that is once we complete step one.

I’ve experienced both types of “burn out” since I’ve been in business. It has always been mental. I can work 15 or 16 hour days for weeks, months, or even years at a time and not burn out. As long as I’m seeing progress towards a grand vision, I will be super enthused and full of energy. However, if progress slows, doesn’t appear to be working, or I reach my goal without having another one in mind, I will get that same sinking feeling of burn out.

When we first started our junk removal business and we had a few slow days, I would get that tired feeling. It was worry. I had less work that HAD to be done and the work I was doing was less physically demanding than work on the truck, yet I found myself tired and subdued. Some might interpret that as burn out. It wasn’t. It was worry at the slowdown in progress.


Overcoming the Inevitable Challenges 

A more recent example of burn out came in regards to our new business, Junk Removal Authority, and our brand new pay-per-job program. This is something that has never been done before in any industry. Though we surpassed 10 partners with this program and we had a few locations doing extremely well, we had several locations averaging around four or five jobs a week when we were hoping for about 10 a week. Our partner junk removal companies were relatively happy because they were paying only for results, but we were losing money. It was costing us more to get those jobs than the $90 we charge per job. I decided to take a little time away from the office to evaluate the data we had, think of the big picture, read, work on a few hobbies other than work, and then attack the start of the new week with a vengeance. I realized what had to be done to make this a major success, both for us and our junk removal business partners. I can’t tell you that solution, but I can tell you we are currently working hard towards achieving it and making substantial progress. And my energy level is again sky high!

Though Elon Musk works a crazy number of hours – upwards of 120 a week – and sleeps at the Tesla factory, I don’t believe lack of sleep is his issue with burn out. I think it’s slower progress than desired and much of that is being caused by shareholders who simply want a monetary return. Musk will bounce back and recover. Should Tesla go private, it will likely flourish even more because Musk will find it easier to focus on reaching his vision rather than dealing with shareholders who just want to see a return.

Always have a large purpose you are striving for and when things don’t go as planned, take the time to re-evaluate your course. Once you’ve taken a bit of time, take that new plan you’ve come up with and attack it with a vengeance. If you are persistent, you are bound to eventually hit your target.

Lee Godbold is the co-founder of the junk removal company Junk Doctors and Junk Removal Authority. Junk Removal Authority sells business packages, job generation for partner companies, consulting, and other support services for the junk removal industry. More information on the Junk Removal Authority business package, an alternative to junk removal franchising, can be found at https://junkremovalauthority.com/services/business-package/


-Lee Godbold