Why Elon Musk Should Take a Vacation

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has gotten into spats with Wall Street and Warren Buffett over the past week.
Why Elon Musk Should Take a Vacation
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Associate Editor
3 min read

Elon Musk has been busy talking over the past week.

First, he alienated Wall Street on Tesla’s Q1 earnings call by calling some questions “boring” and “bonehead[ed].” Then, he alerted the public that the “short burn of the century” was coming soon (even tweeting that “flamethrowers should arrive just in time”).

Finally, he sparred with Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, dismissing the famed investor’s tenet about “moats,” or building a competitive buffer around a company. Buffett fired back at his company’s annual meeting, reiterating his belief in moats and postulating that Musk wouldn’t want to take him on in the candy market. Musk, in turn, tweeted: “I’m starting a candy company & it’s going to be amazing,” followed by “I am super super serious.”

From all this, one thing is clear: Elon Musk probably needs a vacation.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO reportedly works about 85 to 100 hours per week, and for him, lunch “break” is a misnomer since he’s known to wolf down food in five minutes and during a meeting. He’s not alone in subscribing to the idea of being a “work martyr.” According to Project: Time Off, many Americans sacrifice vacation time because they falsely believe that no one else can do their job and that giving up time off will help them get ahead.

However, skipping vacation can lead to a host of health issues -- perhaps most notably a potential 30 to 50 percent spike in heart attack risk, according to one long-term study. Experts say it can also lead to increased stress and blood pressure, as well as a dip in mental focus and clarity.

This is related to two types of cognitive capacity: working memory (how to perform tasks you’re used to) and fluid intelligence (the part of the brain that works on novel problems, or things you’ve never done before). Successful people are well-versed in alternating between the two -- they balance the daily grind with the energy it takes to dream up “wild, crazy things,” says Mary LoVerde, work-life balance expert and author.

“We have a limited cognitive capacity,” LoVerde says. “Even Elon Musk.” It’s possible to exceed your cognitive capacity -- and overwhelming it can lead to confused behavior, irritability, irrationality and saying things you wouldn’t normally say.

It’s fair to say many Americans overwhelm their cognitive capacity with work, which is their second most common stressor (second only to money), according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey. The top reported symptoms: feeling irritable/angry, feeling nervous/anxious or exhibiting a lack of interest/motivation. Our minds tend to unravel somewhat when we ignore the signs we’re exceeding our cognitive capacity, and working 100 hours a week can certainly overwhelm the part of your brain that lets in stimuli, LoVerde says. The only way to reset it is to be still and rest.

Based on Musk’s public performance over the past week, some time in the tropics -- away from all talk of electric cars and rockets -- might be just what the doctor ordered.

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