Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Signs you may be working for someone more passionate than you

As you all know, my beloved father is a retired engineer.

Once, when I was a teenager, I recall a conversation with him and my beloved mother about the classic saw "Nobody on their deathbed has ever said "I wish I had spent more time at the office.""

My father was silent for a moment and then said, "I wish I had studied more [technical field P] in graduate school."* 

My Mom then pointed out that that wasn't really the point of the proverb. I don't think my Dad ever got it.**

I'm reminded of that conversation thanks to a recent set of quotes in the Washington Post from a recent biography of PayPal investor, SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk: 
15. “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.” — Ryan Popple recalling Musk’s retort when an employee complained in Tesla’s early days that they were working too hard. 
16. “One night he told me, ‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.’ ” — Nicholson 
22. “We’ve grown [expletive] soft.” — Elon Musk, after Vance noted that hundreds of people were working at Tesla’s headquarters on a Saturday.
I have heard thoughts similar to number 16 from my father once (slow-release food tablets was his idea - his more biologically-oriented son knows that's not very practical.) It's funny how those who are successful and truly driven think differently than us - they just do.

*Technical field P is what my father spent the bulk of his career doing, as opposed to his graduate training in related technical field C. My Dad loves to say "I didn't want to learn [technical field P], but I forced myself to like it!" 

**It's okay now; I'm amused/bemused to note that my beloved father doesn't spend very much time thinking about work during his retirement (so far, anyway), which I think is pretty great. 


  1. "If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal."

    Now, with Soylent, people are actually living this life.

  2. I doubt Musk would be saying that if he had a grinding, boring job like 99% of the people on earth. I can imagine that work is fun when "work" involves making all the decisions and seeing your will implemented.

    Don't get me wrong. My job is perfectly fine for what it is. But spending ~50 hours a week on a few very narrow problems of largely someone else's choosing is more than would ever engage in of my own free will if money were not an issue. Musk, in contrast, is incredibly rich and if some idea pops into his head, he can and does just start a company to try to tackle the issue. Thus whatever his passion of the week is becomes "work". Who wouldn't "work" a lot in such circumstances?

    1. Good point. Hey, did you see someone thinks I owe you an umbrella?

      I don't know if we ever made a bet on it, though.

    2. The situation which Chad is describing could be described as being a grad student or post-doc.....for life!

    3. 50 hours a week is insufficient for a grad student or postdoc

    4. Ignorant, thoughtless comments like Mike's are what is wrong with our field. Productivity should not be measured in hours in the lab. I could spend 60 hours a week 'in lab' and surf the web 30% of the time or I could spend 50 hours / week directly in front of the hood.

      Another misunderstanding regarding productivity assessment in our field is number of reactions ran. I hate this. It is easy to setup several reactions - what is not easy is to setup intelligent experiments and analyze them properly.

    5. I think I am set for Japanese umbrellas at the moment. If you are ever around Tokyo, you can buy me a drink though. I know some great places.

    6. The Iron ChemistMay 15, 2015 at 9:54 AM

      I think Mike's comment was sarcastic 10:58. I agree with you that I'd rather have a student offer tangible progress on a project (even if they are negative results) than insight-free boasts about how much he or she worked that week.

  3. The quote on bankruptcy reminds me of something.

    Many successful people (ex Einstein) failed at one point in their life. I wonder if driven people have regrets about not working harder at some point in their life or fears that if they don't work extremely hard they will fail again.