It was reported a couple of weeks ago that Tony Hsieh, best known as the founder of Zappos.com, died of injuries related to a house fire. As more details emerged of the shocking news in the days following, Tony’s death seemed a direct result of the downward spiral those close to him report witnessing.
Just weeks prior to his untimely death at age 46, Hsieh reportedly received a personal letter from his good friend, Jewel, who expressed concern about his destructive behavior.
I have long considered Hsieh an inspiration and genius. A decade ago I met him and was in awe. He was a fearless business leader who made tough choices and seemed to value people over product. When my husband first told me of Hsieh’s death before the cause was public, my first thought was “I wouldn’t be surprised if it were suicide.”
I wasn’t friends with Hsieh and only met him that one time, but I’m disturbed by his death on a deeper level than just feeling saddened that a business icon has fallen. I’m struck by the questions of “Where were his friends and were they too consumed themselves?” Hsieh’s outward demeanor felt like a costume or protective gear belying a degree of inner turmoil.
Over the past few months, Hsieh disassociated himself from confidants and those who cared about him. He became increasingly reclusive and his decisions impulsive. I wonder if his similar past behaviors had been dismissed as eccentric and simply the actions of a brilliant visionary instead of what may have been, in hindsight, cries for help from a sad and lonely human being?
If there is a lesson to gain from Hseih’s death, it’s that we need to do our best to pay attention to those around us. Try to be mindful of changes in behavior that could be indicative of a deeper problem. In this time of Covid, it is all too easy to isolate and disconnect. For yourself and for others, make an effort to reach out to people you haven’t spoken with in a while. Jewel wasn’t afraid to reach out to her friend and put in writing what she witnessed. I believe she did right by him as a friend but sadly, it wasn’t enough to change Hsieh’s course.
This is a particularly hard time for all of us. Our energy and positivity can be rapidly depleted trying to get through each day with uncertain jobs, kids home from school and the ever-present fear of illness. Our traditional sources of nourishment and relaxation are unavailable to us. We cannot get together with loved ones, we can’t go to the gym or catch a movie, go to church services, we can’t stop by our favorite taprooms for a beer and conversation, etc.
Hsieh seemed to love and need people. Most of us need people. Isolation isn’t our human nature. We’ll never know what haunted Hsieh but we can take this opportunity to reflect on our own lives. I know the tunnel is dark right now, but the Winter Solstice signals our march to the light. Hang in there, friends! Allow yourself a little grace, find ways to replenish (reading, exercising, cooking, having a quiet beer by the fire, etc.) and reach out to those you love. Small things may go a long way to helping yourself and someone else.