Maye Musk is 70 years old and doing her best modeling to date.  For most 70-year-olds, the motivation to embrace such a tough profession would be out of the question.  

Maye feels differently.

Partly, because modeling is something she's been doing since the age of 15, and partly because she has a deeper drive.  The type of drive that comes from fighting paycheck to paycheck in order to just make it.

Poverty is a motivator

In a recent interview with CBS just last month, Maye was asked some personal questions about what keeps her going.

Interviewer: "You said, 'Poverty makes you work hard?'"

Maye Musk: "Yes. People asked, why was I motivated? I would say, I wanted to survive."

Anyone who has ever been in a similar situation knows the sting of shame, the constant anxiety, and the guilt.  After her divorce, she was trying to raise her family while living in a rent-controlled property, barely able to make ends meet.  

That type of difficulty is enough to motivate most people.  However, for Maye the desire not only helped her to get out of poverty but to make a career for herself that was purely on her terms.

My rock bottom

I understand this struggle on a personal level. When I was in college, I made a firm decision that I was going to live on my own income.

I could have easily accepted money from my parents, but I had seen other friends fall into the trap of partying and not taking their studies and future careers seriously.  So I avoided asking for money at all costs because I knew I needed to learn how to support myself.

One day I hit rock bottom.

I remember being hungry and needing to go to the grocery store. I went to Aldi, because it was the cheapest.  While standing in line I realized that I couldn't afford all five items in my cart, so I had to put some back.  I was down to the last $10 to my name. I was in between paychecks and was absolutely broke.

Walking back to my apartment I felt crushed. I was quiet, lost in my own thoughts, and at that moment I promised myself that I would never let this happen ever again.  

I didn't ever want to be making life decisions in line at a discount grocery store, because I knew my future was bigger than that.

I had convinced myself that I was going to be completely independent and I would do it all by myself. I had no choice.

I went on to work a second, and a third job. While it wasn't fun, especially with a full class load it was worth it. I was financially independent throughout college and went on to get a job in technology upon graduating.

It takes action to make it work

Psychologically speaking, Maye Musk knew that she needed to do something more with her life, so she worked. A lot.

She didn't wait for her next opportunity, she created opportunities. And when they didn't work, she created more.

This is what we can all take away from her story. Motivation, regardless of whether it is intrinsic, extrinsic, or both, isn't enough. You have to actually do the work and commit to making things happen.

I've learned from running my own company that sometimes things don't go according to plan. The launch gets pushed back six months, the technology doesn't work in time, and sometimes emergent competitors dominate your marketplace.

The point is that you can't let these things stop you. Very few experiences are as poignant as Maye Musk wanting to raise her family as a single mother on food stamps. If she can do it, and make it work, there's always a chance that it can work for you as well.

Published on: Jun 16, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.