Like Back in College (a.k.a. the Elon Musk Experiment)

Here’s why this website had been woefully neglected for much of last year in terms of new content.

From December 2017 to June 2018, I was doing a seven-month sprint. It was a period where, by design, there was an excessive number of activities, obligations, and responsibilities, one that would push the limits of focus and productivity.  They included:

  1. A couple of engineering contracts for the design of parts in the automotive and semiconductor industries.
  2. A second master’s degree, that in Management and Leadership.
  3. Being the crew chief of Team Sea to See, an organization vying to complete the prestigious Race Across America bicycle race as the first team with all blind stokers on four tandem bicycles.  This meant managing approximately 30 people, two training camps, one pre-race camp, and a whole slew of logistical and personnel challenges.
  4. Board of director duties for a local 501(c)(3) non-profit called MiHEC (Mission Health and Education in Communities and Congo), including doing a couple of informative library presentations.
  5. Webmaster and board of director duties for the Fort Collins Running Club.
  6. Organizing local, weekly language conversation groups in Spanish, French, and Mandarin.

With all the above going on, there were many times I thought, “Man, this feels a lot like life back in college.”  College students, after all, are some of the busiest people, at least in the world of unmarried folks who aren’t raising kids.  Many of them engage in extracurricular activities, are active in various organizations, are working part- or even full-time jobs, and try to stay physically fit while taking full course loads, writing papers, studying for exams, making presentations, and basically preparing for the future.  While I was back at Stanford, for example, I was studying or attending classes seven days a week while working two part-time career-building jobs, and there was a quarter I was pulling an all-nighter a week until becoming so sleep-deprived that I ultimately had to concede I was going to have to turn in an assignment late before becoming a walking potato that would routinely run into glass walls. (I actually did that once.)

Some differences that makes the college comparison somewhat imperfect: as an undergraduate, I had no social life whatsoever, whereas this time I was in a relationship with a really wonderful woman. Also, at Stanford I didn’t run but biked to maintain physical fitness; in contrast, in the first half of 2018 I was doing limited “maintenance runs” and few bicycle rides.  This was because running is generally a more effective workout than cycling for a given amount of time.

Anyhow, fast-forward 20+ years after university and it’s fair to ask, why take on so many responsibilities?  What in the world got into my head when I could have comfortably remained semi-retired?  It’s not like half of the things I was doing was going to land, say, a major windfall in income, considering they were entirely voluntarily and even cost money.

You could blame it on my walk across Spain.  And Elon Musk.

Three weeks and 600 miles on the Camino de Santiago is bound to give you inspiration. All the time alone with your thoughts gives you time to reflect, plan, and dream. You also start to think if hiking across an entire county felt not much more difficult than making Spanish omelette, then accomplishing a ton of other noteworthy feats are entirely within the realm of possibility. These challenges may include making contributions to causes you believe in.

Then there was the example of the South African who helped found PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City who proudly boasted he worked 90-120 hours/week. I figured, if he could simultaneously be CEO of a few companies at the same time as raising five kids, surely what I was wanted to accomplish in seven months was feasible.  Never mind this was before I found out that Elon Musk’s marriages kept falling apart, or when he had a public meltdown in an interview with the New York Times in which he admitted his workload had been excruciatingly tough on his personal relationships, or had another bizarre interview in which he may or may not have been smoking marijuana.

Perhaps Musk was not the best example to follow, then.  At least my “experiment” had an end date: the end of June, after Team Sea to See would successfully complete the Race Across America.  Hence, the notion of a seven-month sprint.

So how did this experiment go?

Well, I made it to the finish line—and mostly with adequate sleep.  Clients seemed satisfied with deliverables, the Master’s degree was completed a few weeks before tuition would otherwise become due for another semester, Team Sea to See (amid much drama) successfully became the first tandem team with all blind stokers to complete RAAM, the MiHEC presentations went swimmingly, the FCRC website didn’t crash, and my foreign language abilities incrementally improved.  I never had a major meltdown, and I think I managed (at least my own) stress levels pretty well despite the numerous challenges that the above tasks presented.

Yet, by the time it was all over, I needed a long break (especially one away from computers) and had pretty much concluded that while I am capable of such intensive work periods, I would probably not do them again. I’m not in college anymore. Nor do I have Elon Musk’s level of energy or ambition.

My red 1992 Cannondale R500 3.0 at Meyer Library, with Green Library and the Hoover Tower in the background at Stanford University.

Your Voice

3 comments
  • Jim Berridge says:

    Hi Felix

    Just picked this up as part of your 2019 Newsletter. Happy New Year and thanks for all the continued inspiration.

    I think I am overloaded with work and life and then I read about all the juggling you have going on and I realize there is plenty of room to chase big dreams. Time to cut the social media surfing and just get on with it!

    Thanks again and looking forward to not just living vicariously through your blog posts but also being inspired by you get up and do stuff myself!!

    Cheers
    -Jim

    • Felix Wong says:

      Hi Jim! Great to hear from you and thanks for your note. Happy new year to you too!

      I hear you on how there is plenty of room to chase big dreams. I’ve been thinking the other day about how I can gain some more extra time. For me, it would be reading less consumer tech and sports news! Now that NFL season is over, it should be easier about the latter for me.

      Hopefully your work and life stay under control! Good luck with it all, Jim!

  • David says:

    Felix,
    Great to see a post from you. I started following you after reading your Western Governors University four month MBA blog. I’m not sure how I came across the post but it was interesting, thoughtful and well written and perusing around your blog – so were your other posts! You even had me considering purchasing a Microsoft phone and fitness band. Both ideas were almost heresy around my house.
    I’m curious to hear about your second masters. WGU as well or someplace else?
    I’d tell you to take a break but I know you won’t. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.
    David


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