A Doctor Weighs in on Elon Musk’s Burnout Experience

In response to Arianna Huffington's open letter, a doctor notes Musk may burn out like a meteor -- or trailblaze like a shooting star. Which will it be?

Courtesy of  Qiang Fu/Getty Images. 

Dr. Mark Rowe shares his thoughtful response to Arianna Huffington’s Open Letter to Elon Musk below. The Thrive Global team is so inspired by his words that we are thrilled to share them with you. 

I admire Elon Musk. Really. What I mean is that I admire that part of him that is a raw creative genius, with unscripted brilliance, whether in his quest for space travel or next-generation environmentally friendly cars. He’s a real leader in that respect.

But instead of trailblazing like a shooting star, I fear Elon is more likely to burn out like a meteor. Perhaps he already has.

The only conclusion I can come to when reading Elon Musk’s emotional interview in the New York Times is that he is suffering from major burnout.

Leadership can be a lonely place, especially at the top, and so often I have worked with people who have sacrificed their own physical and mental health for a career. Burnout is a real health hazard for leaders but it doesn’t have to be that way. I know better than most, as a medical doctor having felt the flames of professional burnout a few short years ago.

Real leadership is an inside job.

Self-care in terms of actively appreciating and nurturing your physical health, mindset, emotional vitality and relationships is the foundation stone for sustainable leadership in life. Learning from my own experiences has become the bedrock for my own foray into lifestyle medicine and as a life strategist with global leaders.

So here’s a brief overview of Elon’s current wellbeing position.

Suffering (and I use this word deliberately) from chronic sleep deprivation means he spends his time living in his primitive brain, driven by fear and insecurity, overloaded on adrenaline and cortisol, impacting his attention span, decision making, mindset, and willpower while shutting down his rational, reflective thinking brain. Not to mention playing havoc with his ability to be creative and think outside the box.

And his fondness for sleeping tablets is making this situation even worse, not better.

Worse still, he may not even be aware of this because of the brain’s ability to blindside perception of reality. In summary, he is short-circuiting the creative genius that gave him the opportunity in the first place.

Isolating himself from his friends triggers loneliness, which is a major downward drag on his wellbeing. Each happy friend Elon has around him will enhance his happiness by up to 15%. Friends and family also provide a great protective buffer in times of stress and adversity, which Elon is clearly experiencing right now.

The truth is, the inner space of the balanced brain is where rational thoughts, positive emotion, and real resilience originate. It’s the starting point for conquering outer space. Genius can be flawed — it often is — but its potential brilliance doesn’t have to be extinguished and burned out. It really doesn’t have to be this way.

The hallmark of real leadership is being able to pause, take advice, recharge and come back stronger than ever. Elon, I wish you every success. The world needs your genius.

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