By Ellen McGirt
August 3, 2017

In a series of tweets earlier this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke candidly about stress and his mental health.

When asked about his picture perfect online life, the CEO responded, “The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two.”

When asked if he were bipolar, Musk tweeted, “yeah.” Then added, “Maybe not medically tho. Dunno. Bad feelings correlate to bad events, so maybe real problem is getting carried away in what I sign up for.”

Then finally this: “If you buy a ticket to hell, it isn’t fair to blame hell …”

A lot of people felt that last one.

It’s important to point out that a bipolar disorder diagnosis can only be confirmed by a physician. The condition, which requires medical management and support, is nothing to be ashamed of. But Musk’s tweets were an important window into the life of someone who more than occasionally suffers under the weight of the ambitions he once readily signed up for.

“Anyone with many responsibilities – especially those that impact other people – are certainly at risk for high amounts of stress,” explains Dr. Richard Yep, the CEO and Executive Vice President of the American Counseling Association in Alexandria, Va. It’s a short trip to burn out, anxiety, anger, and depression, he says. “The feeling of ‘never being able to please everyone’ can lead to a feeling of isolationism,” he says. “It would not be surprising to see that those entering the executive ranks – or those who have been ‘the boss’ for many years – will begin to feel stress and anxiety that then could lead to various mental health challenges,” he says.

The stigma of admitting to the effects of stress or a diagnosed condition can be profound. “Senior executives managing their disorders are dealing with their issues, and at the same time, they are putting up their guard,” says Wendy Murphy, head of the Human Resources Practice at RSR Partners, an executive search and leadership consulting firm. Organizations that want to better help high potential executives cope with mental illness need to have policies in place that are directed by a trusted chief people officer (or his or her equivalent), who has the ear of senior management. Those policies need to feed the human part of leadership – such as the candid conversations that let people set boundaries, ask for support, and take time-outs to care for themselves. “If those partnerships don’t exist, or if the executive is surrounded by the wrong people, the situation can bleed into risk.”

Younger rank-and-filers who are living with some sort of mental or physical limitation have found an unexpected ally in novelist and essayist Esmé Weijun Wang.

Wang, who lives with late-stage Lyme disease and schizoaffective disorder, has been dealing with various illnesses since she was a pre-teen. Her essay on her thoughts on diagnosis is a must-read. Here’s a snapshot of her 2013: “I spent most of that year spinning in and out of different harrowing beliefs: there were spiders in my brain, my husband had poisoned my tea, there were cameras spying on me in every corner of the flat, and so on. 2013 was also the year that I surrendered my last benchmark of sanity, otherwise known as my full-time job at a fast-paced startup company.”

And yet, in spite of everything, she persisted. She’s moved on from her work in health care, to produce an extraordinary amount of writing, winning awards both for her novel, The Border of Paradise, and her forthcoming essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias. Her message? If she can succeed, so can you.

She is the founder of The Unexpected Shape, an online resource for “ambitious people living with limitations.” We all have them. “It’s the shape that our lives take when we realize the boundaries that exist around it,” she says. “Our lives can look beautiful within that shape.”

It is a true trove of candid advice – she offers an e-mail course called A**-Kicking With Limitations – but where she really excels is in erasing the intersection between illness and achievement. “The key thing to remember is that you are still you and even if it feels like your illness or your mental health condition is really taking over your life there are still aspects of you that have nothing to do with that,” she said in an interview with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. The contributions we make through our work are a vital part of who we are.

Of course, we need C-Suites to be committed to designing systems that support people with invisible limitations, particularly those who don’t have the embedded privileges of someone like Elon Musk.

But back to Musk for a moment. To answer his assertion, yes, people do want to hear about the lows and unrelenting stress. By publicly grappling with the unexpected shape of his own life, even briefly, Musk added an admirable element to an important conversation.

On Point

Facebook’s latest diversity report is here
The company’s 2017 diversity report is a mixed bag. Facebook showed a 1% increase in representation for both Hispanic and black employees, but only in non-technical roles. (The increases boosts their representation to 5% and 3% percent, respectively.) For women, the news is better. Female Facebookers increased from 33% to 35% globally, and from 17% to 19% in technical positions. “This year’s new hires are 27% female—a number that is impressive considering the fact that just 18% of computer science majors in the U.S. are women,” explains Fortune’s Valentina Zaraya. Click through for her full analysis.
Harvard’s incoming freshman class is majority non-white for the first time ever
According to the university, 50.8% of the freshmen students who were admitted to Harvard this year were from “minority” groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians, up from 47.3% from last year. Of this total, some 22.2% are Asian American. While the university is justifiably proud of their efforts to diversify the student body, the announcement coincides with news reports suggesting that the US Justice Department plans to divert resources from its civil rights division toward investigating affirmative action admissions policies that are determined to discriminate against white applicants. “Harvard’s admissions process considers each applicant as a whole person, and we review many factors, consistent with the legal standards established by the US Supreme Court,” said a university spokeswoman.
Boston Globe
Legacy status has sometimes been a factor in elite college admissions process
About 15%, give or take, of children or step-children of legacy alumni to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell have been admitted every year since 2000, according to this analysis from the The Daily Princetonian. Another oft-cited study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that in a pool of 30 selective colleges, legacy students had seven times the odds of acceptance of non-legacy students. “It’s fundamentally unfair because it’s a preference that advantages the already advantaged,” said a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “It has nothing to do with the individual merit of the applicant.” But the issue is not straightforward. At some schools, legacy status had no impact. At others, different types of candidates – like athletes – were more valued. In those cases, “The advantages for underrepresented minorities are pretty big, too,” said the study’s author.
New York Times
Study confirms how lead got into the Flint water supply
The lack of a commonly used water treatment protocol was a major contributor to the toxic water the Flint community has been dealing with since 2014, according to this report published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. Orthophosphate, a chemical commonly used in water treatment systems, prevents contamination by creating a mineral coating that keeps toxic lead stuck to the inside of water pipes. Click through for the evidence the team presented. “The lack of [ortho]phosphate in the water was to blame for the dramatic release of lead in the system,” said the chief investigator. “There have been others who sort of disputed that, [but] I think that can be put to rest.” The volunteer forensic team was made up of chemists and faculty at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The Woke Leader

In which novelist Colson Whitehead is tired of being the world’s only black friend
In preparation for a foreign press junket, the acclaimed novelist tweeted this short graph that he’s considering putting on a business card. What do you think? “While I’m glad we’ve had this chance to talk, because of time constraints, I cannot answer basic questions about race and how racism works. For an introduction to elementary concepts, the reverse of this card has a link to the article ‘16 Books About Race Every White Person Should Read.’ In the meantime, do you have any questions about my novel The Underground Railroad?” Sick burn, literary style. Click below for the list he was referring to.  
Huffington Post
Emma Lazarus is back in the news, and people are saying great things
Yesterday, administration official Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta had a surprisingly contentious back and forth about the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty that you’ve no doubt seen and discussed in detail with your friends down at the pub. One issue was whether the “The New Colossus,” the stirring poem which appears on the statue’s base—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—was really designed to speak to the plight of the refugee or immigrant, or put there as an afterthought.  While Miller was correct that the poem was added later, he was wrong in saying that the poem’s author, Emma Lazarus, wasn’t aware of the statue or its purpose as a welcoming beacon for immigrants. And, as it turns out, Lazarus herself, a rising literary star, cared deeply about huddled masses. A descendant of some of the first Sephardic Jews to ever come to the New World, she became a passionate advocate for Russian Jewish refugees arriving in the U.S. in the late 1880s. She was also pals with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her premature death extinguished both a great talent and an even greater humanitarian.
Mental Floss
How the discovery of the Tuskegee study impacted the health of black men
The big reveal had an immediate impact. The full name of the study was the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” a forty-year experiment of neglect in the name of science that has become synonymous with racist medical mistreatment. In a new paper accepted by Oxford’s Quarterly Journal of Economics, two researchers have found that the news of the study had a devastating effect. “We find that the disclosure of the study in 1972 is correlated with increases in medical mistrust and mortality and decreases in both outpatient and inpatient physician interactions for older black men,” say the authors. As a result, life expectancy for black men who lost faith in the medical system fell by 1.5 years. It accounted for some 35% of the life expectancy gap between black and white men in 1980. (Subscription required.)
Quarterly Journal of Economics


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