By Steve Moran

This morning my friend Michael Owens, the producer of the Senior Living Innovation Forum executive conference sent me a link to a Forbes article titled “Tony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months of the Zappos Visionary”.

It is one of the saddest most difficult things I have ever read. Here is this guy who had enough passion for life, his work, and people for ten normal leaders. He built this billion-dollar online shoe company that people loved working at. Then he sold it to Amazon giving him enough money to be able to do anything he wanted, to make himself deliciously happy.


Life Lessons

There are two critical life and business lessons in this human tragedy for every senior living leader:

  1. Chasing happiness often means you are dashing down the path of destruction. We equate success with money and money with happiness. But too often they, along with power, are the things that are most likely to destroy us. Tony was at his very best, and I suspect happiest, when he was working on making the lives of other people happier and better.

    According to the Forbes article, he reached out to a bunch of “friends”, moved them to Park City and paid them twice as much money as they had ever earned and told them to be happy. But they were not, and very likely they helped him travel the route of self destruction.

    The leadership lesson here is to be very careful about what you are chasing; to make sure what you are chasing will actually make you happy.
  2. In Senior Living, so much of our life enrichment programing is focused on entertainment, self-gratification, and just filling time, rather than purposeful living. My personal preference is for purposeful activities that make the world a better place, but it does not have to be that. It could be building something, making something, reading something, learning something. But it has to be more than just filling time.

    Perhaps, when you have “drama” among your residents it is because your programming lacks purpose. If your residents are not happy, perhaps your programming lacks purpose. If your residents are unhealthy, perhaps it is a programming problem.

    Finally, if your community is not full, then perhaps it is because there is no real compelling, change-in-the-world reason to move into your community.

The single best way to bring additional meaning to Tony’s life is for us to learn from his tragic death. To use it as motivation for living more purposeful lives ourselves and creating more purposeful lives for our residents.