How a Painful Childhood Shaped Elon Musk: When Elon Musk’s first wife Justine replied to a question on Quora about how someone can be as great as Elon or other super successful people, she wrote: “These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way.”
Elon Musk grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, and said he had an unhappy and lonely childhood. He didn’t spend much time playing with other kids. Because he has Asperger’s, he struggled to pick up social cues and to understand that sometimes, people didn’t say exactly what they meant but instead, spoke figuratively.
He only started to figure it out by immersing himself in books and watching movies. Musk even mused that perhaps he read too many comics as a kid, telling Ashlee Vance in his 2015 book about him, “In the comics, it always seems like they are trying to save the world.
It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense.” It’s no coincidence Musk has made it his mission to make a mark on the world with self-driving electric cars and plans to colonize Mars. His brilliance shown at an early age.
His father Errol once said that when Elon was three or four years old, his son asked him: “Where is the whole world?” In other words, where did the world sit in the grand scheme of the universe?
Quite the question for any young child to ask. As a kid, Elon was always living in his head. He was so introspective kid that Elon’s father told me his second-grade teacher that he was ‘retarded’ – the word he said the teacher used. Things were not great at school. In fact, They were painful.
He endured years of ruthless bullying as detailed in Ashlee Vance’s book. One day in eighth or ninth grade, Musk recalled how he and his brother Kimbal were sitting on the top of a flight of stairs eating when a boy snuck up behind him, kicked him in the head, and shoved him down the stairs before a bunch of boys beat him until he blacked out.
The beating damaged his nose so badly that it restricted the airflow for which he later had surgery. The bullies even beat up Musk’s best friend until he agreed to stop hanging out with him.
Musk recalled in Vance’s book: “Moreover, they got him—they got my best f*cking friend—to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. And that f*cking hurt.”
Vance described how: While telling this part of the story, Musk’s eyes welled up and his voice quivered. “For some reason, they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That’s what made growing up difficult.
For a number of years, there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the sh*t out of me, and then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well. It was just like nonstop horrible.”
Elon’s mother Maye and Errol divorced when he was eight. Maye said she left an abusive relationship. She ran away with the three children, and it was a struggle raising them as a single mom. The model and nutritionist saved up what she had and when money got tight, she fed the kids peanut butter sandwiches and bean soup.
Elon eventually chose to live with his father for a while as he felt bad that his dad was living alone. One has to wonder if Elon regretted that decision, as he told Rolling Stone: “He was such a terrible human being. You have no idea.
My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil. He will plan evil.” I went into detail in another video about Elon’s relationship with his father which I’ll link in the description.
In response to Elon’s portrayal of him, Errol Musk told Rolling Stone: “I’ve been accused of being a Gay, a Misogynist, a Paedophile, a Traitor, a Rat, a Sh*t (quite often), a Bastard (by many women whose attentions I did not return) and much more.
My own (wonderful) mother told me I am ‘ruthless’ and should learn to be more ‘humane.’” But, he concluded, “I love my children and would readily do whatever for them. When I reached out to Errol for his reaction to Elon’s comments, he said he didn’t have any more to add to the Rolling Stone article.
Elon found comfort in coding. By the time he was twelve, he coded a space-themed video game called Blastar. A South African magazine published the source code and gave him $500.
The game was by no means a marvel of computer programming, but it did hint at the genius brewing inside of him. He would turn his science fiction fantasies into reality when he founded SpaceX at the age of thirty, in 2002.
His enthusiasm to explore space also has roots in the existential crisis he suffered as a teenager. He studied religious texts to learn the meaning of life. He ended up embracing the lessons in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, in which Musk says the lesson is figuring out what questions to ask, and then, the answer will be relatively simple.
Musk has said his aim is to increase the scope and scale of human civilization, so that we’ll learn more, become more enlightened, and are better able to understand what questions to ask.
The boy who fantasized about space and found solace in coding would later learn to fight back against his bullies. He went through a growth spurt and by the time he was 16, he was a towering six feet tall.
He also trained in karate, judo, and wrestling and as he told Rolling Stone: “I started dishing it out as hard as they’d give it to me.” When he knocked out the biggest bully in school with one punch, he noticed that the bully never picked on him again.
He told the magazine: “It taught me a lesson: If you’re fighting a bully, you cannot appease a bully. You punch the bully in the nose.” And perhaps that mentality shaped Elon Musk as he had to fight to keep Tesla and SpaceX alive even when the odds were heavily against him.
He also had to fight to prove his father wrong. When Elon decided to move to Canada at the age of 17, his mother’s birth country, and later relocated here to Toronto, he says his dad didn’t think he could make it, and told him he’d be back in South Africa within months. And that he was an idiot for trying.
He did two years of his undergrad at Queen’s University in Kingston, three hours drive east of Toronto. But the goal was always to get to America. After two years at Queen’s, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, his ticket to the promised land.
As a young boy growing up in South Africa when apartheid was in its final years but there was still tension and violence, he saw America as the land of opportunity. For him, it was more than a cliché. It was the one place where a lonely, quiet kid with a talent for computers could make something of himself.
No one could have predicted that he’d become one of modern America’s greatest industrialists – and perhaps, arguably, the greatest entrepreneur of all time. Elon Musk is a supremely talented engineer.
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Information Source: Newsthink