Full text of Canadian author Justine Musk’s talk: Wounded People Tell Better Stories at TEDxSanFrancisco conference.
“Show me who you love, and I’ll show you who you are”
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Justine Musk – Canadian author, & former wife of Elon Musk
I am here, because of a question that someone asked me in the summer of 2014. And the question went something like this: ‘Justine, as someone who is married to the entrepreneur Elon Musk, you know, Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal, you have presumably interacted with some of the greatest names in the business world. So, as an observer, what are some of the big things that you’ve noticed that sets them apart from us mere mortals?’
Because I’m a writer, I like to watch and take notes, I’m the kind of friend who inspires people to say ‘Justine, please don’t put this on your blog’. So, I always say ‘no, of course not, I’m saving it for my fiction’.
But this question lived inside of me for several months. And I was surprised at what I wanted to say and what I’m going to say to you here right now, I am impressed and deeply moved by just how dysfunctional and messed-up we all manage to be as human beings.
So, even the most golden among us, I mean they have stellar careers but if you look at the other areas of their lives, you’ll see where their demons manifests themselves. Their forms of self-sabotage, you know, their wounds.
But what they do better than us mere mortals is that they tell better stories about who they are, not just to us. Although, part of genius is your ability to communicate it and make it relevant to others, but to themselves about who they are, where they come from, where they’re going because we are made up of stories.
And the best stories don’t tell us how awesome we already are, they tell us who we can be, you know, they inspire and empower us and they call us out to our higher better selves.
They’re also obsessed with what they do. They don’t really bind this whole idea of something we call life work balance and maybe they’re on to something, because life work balance was originally a term that anthropologists used in the 1800’s. They were studying the happiness level of these tribes and their conclusion was that the thinner the line between what you did for work and what you did in the rest of your life, the happier you were.
So, it actually wasn’t about balance. It was about integration but we live in a culture where we’ve made this very sharp division between work and home, private and public and we’ve assigned men to one sphere and women to the other.
So, when this term surfaced again in the 70s in the UK and in the 80s in the United States, well, what else was going on in the culture? Women were moving en masse from the private world to the public world, so suddenly this balance was in question.
But maybe it’s time to question the question which forces both men and women to choose often between friends, family, love and a really kick-ass career that engages you, demands your best work, stimulates you.
But there’s another story rising to counter this and it’s called ‘finding your passion’.
How do you find your passion? We don’t seem very good in knowing how to do this, and Einstein said ‘a problem cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it’. So, maybe we should go back and take a look at passion, the original meaning of passion, which means to suffer.
Religious scholars used the term in the 12th century; they were talking about the suffering of Christ. And when Western Europe put some, you know, reenacts Christ’s final days, we call them passion plays because it’s a very particular kind of suffering, it’s willful, it’s voluntary, it’s done for reasons and make other people think you are absolutely out of your mind.
But we confuse finding your passion with finding your bliss, you know, something that Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist is very well known for saying. It’s a great soundbite, you know, follow your bliss, awesome, sign me up.
But it was part of a larger point he was making, that if you connect these moments of authentic happiness, they will meet you to something bigger than what makes you happy which is something what you are willing to suffer for.
And we throw around the term so casually, you know, ‘I have a passion for lasagna’. You’re like ‘really? You’re willing to suffer for lasagna?’ In my head, I can hear people saying ‘Yes, Justine. I’m willing to suffer for lasagna’.
When I was 17, I took up Taekwondo because I wanted to be a badass. And in Taekwondo, they teach you how to break boards by focusing on a point that’s just behind the board. And I think it’s a lot like that with passion, where it’s not the activity per se but it’s the value behind the activity, so the same activity can mean different things to different people.
You know, you value the freedom to express yourself through your amazing pasta or you value the community you create by gathering people around your amazing pasta. And so it’s this value that connects to the essence of who we are and who we want to serve, our soul or as I like to think of it, our inner freaks.
You know that word on Namaste at the end of yoga class, when they make you say that and, you know, the light in me honors the light in you, I like to think of it as ‘the inner freaking me honors inner freaking you’. The ancient Romans called it your genius.
And we are used to thinking of that word, meaning a very rare and exceptional individual of amazing ability but according to the ancient Romans, we all had one and your genie was your true inner shape but it doesn’t reveal itself all at once. You have to track it over time through whispers and glimmerings and clues and it might not be what you expect.
You think you’re tracking a lion and it turns out to be a unicorn with a Mohawk or maybe a short-haired miniature dachshund.
I would not have chosen to be a writer. I would have chosen to be a rock star. I mean, I don’t know what you would get if you cross Lena Del Rio with EDM with David Bowie but that would have been me. But in fourth grade, after every creative writing class, Mrs. Russov would say ‘children, who would like to read your story aloud to the class?’ And the kids would say ‘Jenny’ as I was Jenny back then, yeah. Jenny. Get Jenny to read her story.
Yeah, so the same kids who bullied me and excluded me on the playground, they would be wrapped when I was up there at the front of the classroom reading my story.
So, it gave me a different way to think of myself as other than the kid who, you know, always had the desk that was like vomiting notebooks and papers and who couldn’t return a library book to save her life, who couldn’t pay attention in class, in high school had a lot of trouble going to class.
But my writing got me through. In fact, my writing got me a four-year scholarship to a pretty good university where I met a young Elon Musk. In my mid-thirties after I had sold three novels to traditional publishers, I was diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit disorder, which often goes undiagnosed in young girls because we’re not hyperactive and bothering people, we are just staring out the window.