Tony Hsieh Was a Extensively Admired, Wildly Profitable Entrepreneur. However He Struggled to Discover Actual Happiness
New details about the last self-destructive months in Tony Hsieh’s life tell a tragic tale – unique in its details but familiar in its trajectory.
He was an entrepreneur who, at 46, had achieved what so many others wanted their lives to do: several hugely successful ventures, a bestselling book, lots of money, and the respect and admiration of legions of co-founders. The latter is poignant: since his death, the honors have shown that Hsieh was not only admired but also loved for his spirit and generosity. Yet the man who made it his business to “bring happiness” seemed unable to find it in his own life.
According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, Hsieh battled depression and substance abuse. He died on November 27 of complications from injuries after being rescued in a house fire nine days earlier. He’s not the first entrepreneur to come to a tragic end, and sadly, he probably won’t be the last. According to a study by Michael Freeman, a psychiatry professor at the University of California at San Francisco, founders are 30 percent more likely than non-founders to report a history of depression. Entrepreneurial life can already be isolating. Intensity is what Amy Buechler, a licensed psychotherapist and former in-house trainer at Startup Accelerator Y Combinator, calls the “standard state” for founders. The Covid pandemic, Forbes reports, has only made Hsieh’s struggles with loneliness, depression and drug use worse.
Several news reports paint the picture of a man who, in fact, was rarely alone. When he moved to Park City, Utah, apparently to recreate something of the revitalization project he initiated in Las Vegas, he told the Journal that he paid friends and acquaintances to move there too. He filled his $ 16 million mansion with social gatherings and musical performances. While he may have surrounded himself with people, close friends and family members quoted in Forbes and the Journal say these were supporters who encouraged Hsieh’s self-destructive behavior and just said yes.
When I reported on founders struggling with depression and mental health problems in September, the problem of isolation kept cropping up. Often founders have problems with it in the early stages of company development because they neglect important relationships when a startup takes more and more time and energy, says Büchler. It’s a problem, of course, that doesn’t necessarily go away in the course of a founder’s career.
Serial entrepreneur Al Doan is an example of a founder who felt increasingly lonely as the Missouri Quilt Co. he co-founded became a success. Doan says that even his most important relationships took on a different tone – without the closeness and vulnerability they once had as the company grew. Initially, he co-founded the Missouri Quilt Co. to support his mother. But his role as the utility – the one who paid their bills – began to dominate the relationship. He feared deeply that if the company failed, he would lose his worth to her. “If I had failed, I would have ruined their income and been a terrible person. I realized this wasn’t real, but this is where I ended up in my head,” he told me in August. “I was the war general and had to take care of everything.” Missouri Quilt Co. was a tremendous success in every way – when Doan resigned in 2016, the company had tens of millions in sales. However, his exit sparked a depressive episode when he struggled to find a new meaning and identity separate from the role of founder and leader.
When coaching founders struggling with isolation and depression, Büchler often talks about the need to have “responsibility partners” – the people and friendships that can pull you out of your lowest depths and remind you that you have value.
According to Forbes, Hsieh had people in his life who saw what was happening and tried to get through to him. A friend, the singer Jewel, wrote him a blunt note warning that he was out of control: “I have to tell you that I don’t think you are okay and you are sane. I think You are taking too many drugs and it is causing you to break up … The people you surround yourself with are either ignorant or willing to participate in killing yourself. ”
For Hsieh it was news that tragically came too late.
If you or someone you know is having problems and needs help, please call the Drug Abuse and Mental Health Agency hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357).