Van Gogh’s final words were “The sadness will last forever…” – that tells you everything you need to know.
“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.”
Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats
When Rishad Tobaccowala was conducting research for his book, he examined why people work and who are the most fulfilled people at work. He found:
"Initially people work for three important motivations: Money, Fame (Recognition), and Power (Autonomy). The people who succeed in the long run also seek and find three other motivations which are Purpose (alignment with the goals of the company, finding meaning at work), Growth (learning, becoming better, new skills) and Connections (Connection to people they work with and the communities they work with)."
That passage and those six motivations merit a [forthcoming] post in of itself, but I couldn’t help but think of what drives individuals to pursue entrepreneurship, and the vapidness that success as an entrepreneur sometimes brings.
There are way too many parallels in Tony Hsieh‘s rise and fall to cover at once, but the name of his book “Delivering Happiness” is the ultimate paradox and irony. Here was a man who was probably never quite content and on a perpetual search for happiness and peace of mind. I get that all too well, always trying to ensure that others are happy and content, only to realize a brewing unease within myself.
While Hsieh’s addictive personality and demons likely led to his departure from the company he built, it’s also equally likely that his departure then exacerbated his fall: “That August, Mr. Hsieh’s retirement from Zappos exacerbated his downward spiral, friends say.”
That took me back two years, when Tony Bourdain and Kate Spade took their own lives. Nothing in Hsieh’s passing suggests it was deliberate or a suicide, but the life lessons for entrepreneurs and humans will hopefully be Hsieh longer-lasting legacy. Customer service and culture are critical in business, but having that center of gravity in life – which he seemed to lack – is paramount. For me, having a wife and children gave me a bit of perspective and balance that I would have otherwise lacked, and which would have made the highs and lows more profound, and hard to manage.
Entrepreneurs, of note, tend to have deeper complexes as a result of incubating and growing a business, much like a parent. A 2015 University of California study said 49% of entrepreneurs suffer from some degree of mental illness; the suicide of LA-based entrepreneur Jody Sherman in 2013 led many to search and find a connection between startup culture and mental illness.
As much as we need to let our child go to see it grow, it’s a delicate balance to strike.
I view myself as a custodian of WatchMojo, an ombudsman of sorts to try to serve many stakeholders. It’s not really my baby, but saying that doesn’t mean we necessarily truly believe it. I’ve acknowledged that one day, through choice or force, I will depart. But that doesn’t make the reality any less true: a 2017 study by the University of Helsinki used MRI scans to show that entrepreneurs are attached to their companies in the same way parents are to their children.
Entrepreneurship is far more about your mental and physical toughness than we want to admit. We are starting to have some of the uncomfortable conversations, and may not like the answers we find.