I’ve been disconnected from my old world for awhile now…the one where my identity revolved around being “a connector” among and amidst technology entrepreneurs. It was the world of start-ups, the world of venture capital, the world of creators and engineers and a world predominantly led by men. It was a world where I never truly felt like I belonged, despite having many positive experiences and magical moments along the way. I always felt like a circle that didn’t fit into the square or a triangle that didn’t fit into the circle, deeply yearning to create a community for other misfits, a bit like the infamous Island of Misfit Toys that Yukon Cornelius, Hermey the Elf and Rudolph fell upon in the Arctic tundra.
It was in this world of hardware, software, apps and IoT that I had the opportunity to not just meet Tony Hsieh, whose death came with great sadness, but also hang out with on occasion. I hadn’t realized that he stepped down as CEO of Zappos in August after 21 years, not until I read of his death, which just so happened to be on my birthday.
Death is such a heavy word for most of us and there’s no doubt, I felt a deep sense of sadness both in my heart and gut when I first learned of the news, a very common reaction when we experience the loss of someone we once knew.
Yet, in my new world which is predominantly led by Consciousness and Spirit, I know that his ‘death’ isn’t really ‘death’ at all — it is a mere shedding of his shell — aka the mask and costume — he chose to wear for yet another physical experience. Those still embedded in scientific materialism may see this as perhaps a ‘religious statement’ however it couldn’t be further from my meaning. As folks like Bruce Lipton, Dr. Joe Dispenza, Gregg Braden, Mark Gober and countless others have written about, we are now aware that the bridge that has always separated science and spirituality is getting closer and closer every day. We know that powerful healing and elevated states of awareness can happen through meditation. Evidence points to the notion that consciousness exists outside the physical brain, almost like data stored in the cloud, to take an analogy from the world of technology.
Knowing that Tony’s Soul and his Consciousness lives on, why shed a tear of sadness? It is because within this physical plane of existence, we grieve the loss of a ‘being’ who came here to bring light, joy and happiness, the latter of which was even in the title of a book Tony Hsieh authored: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. Despite this innate knowing, we realize we can never look into the person’s eyes again, not in their latest physical manifestation anyway. Nor can we hold their hands, hear their laugh or share a cup of coffee.
And so, there was a jolt to my physical system when I heard the news despite that innate realization that his Soul lives on and becomes reconnected to universal consciousness so to speak. “It” becomes part of the aether, part of the Void, part of the All That Is and part of the Cosmic soup. As a misfit himself, I always felt that he somehow knew this and is one of the reasons he didn’t project some of the traditional fears that so many others plug into, at least not in any of my direct experiences with him.
I can’t recall the exact moment I first met Tony but I think it was in 2007 in Austin — long before his ‘Happiness’ book hit the market. By the time the book was released, I had already experienced many special “Tony moments” including a Zappos tour to better understand his vision of what customer experience, loyalty and appreciation should look like.
Tony also invited me to their holiday parties, and on one such event, a pair of shoes was waiting for me upon arrival that was a perfect match for the 1920’s flapper outfit I chose to wear that evening.
Then there were interactions at Austin’s annual SXSW, which was all about parties — thrown by individuals and vendors — and they went on for days. They weren’t the kinds of parties we attended during the “heyday” of Comdex and CES that ended around 11 pm — SXSW parties would carry on throughout the night — every night — for a week, and often we’d end up at some all night joint for pancakes at around 5 am. Those who were part of this eco-chamber well remember SXSW and it’s “magic moments.” It was SXSW 2007 that Evan Williams set me up with my Twitter account directly on my phone in one of those long corridors well before the Twitter frenzy hit, Robert Scoble looking on with a beaming smile to demonstrate how ‘cool he thought it was.’ I remember thinking at the time: ‘another ridiculous name for a start-up that has no meaning.’ But, I respected Ev and the rest is history.
That same SXSW, I hung out with other technology visionaries (and bloggers) as we ventured from party lounge to party suite. Zappos had a gathering and if my memory serves me right, it was here I was first introduced to Tony. Calm and centered were two words I’d use to describe him, which amidst the chaos of SXSW’s youthful glam and tech illuminati was hard to pull off. Simply put: SXSW was full of inventors, creators, engineers and artists and all the frenzied energy that came along with it. Alcohol too of course.
It was either that same SXSW or subsequent ones (likely both) that I’d jump aboard Tony’s rented bus which would transport us from party-to-party. Sometimes, we wouldn’t get off at all and the bus became the party with plenty of beer along for the ride and even a decorative balloon artist on board to boot. It turns out that Steven Rosenbaum who shared those same Austin experiences had equally fond memories as he writes in his own beautiful tribute to Tony on MediaPost.
Luminaries abound became the order of the day in those fun but often misunderstood days of technology creation and advancement. Tony Hsieh was among the few that were not just truly respected but truly liked. Whether you were drinking beer with him at the TechSet Blogger Lounge in Vegas or Austin or hanging out with him over much better food at LeWeb in Paris (Geraldine & Loic LeMeur certainly knew how to throw a party and curate a menu), if you met up with him, you’ll remember another important quality that Tony Hsieh possessed: Presence. As entrepreneurs rose in fame (and bank accounts), so too did the ego and with “it” often came ‘lack of presence,’ where you always felt that they had somewhere more important to get to or someone more important to talk to other than you. We’ve all been there and it’s an inauthentic and empty feeling, isn’t it?
On another occasion, there was an awkward moment when I was turned away at the door of a ‘nearly all male’ poker party that I was invited to by several entrepreneurs in my ‘circle.’ As I recall, it was in some ‘power suite’ on the top floor of some 5 star hotel I don’t remember the name of, and suddenly Tony was at the door and told the person to let me in. He did so with a balance of both softness and firmness and a smile that simply let you know that ‘all would be okay.’ And of course, all was okay. Those who knew him well and shared in these special “Tony moments” understand this feeling.
As Sarah Lacy wrote in her Business Insider article about his passing, Tony was “fundamentally someone who wanted to make people happy.” She also shared a story I resonated with as it was similar to my own experiences with him over the years. During an uncomfortable moment deep in an underwater cave, Tony took her hand and like I felt in my own special “Tony moments”, let her know that all would be okay. You see, he had that way about him and people just ‘felt it.’ You know that beautiful quote from Maya Angelou: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
Tony lived that.
In 2011, I had an idea for a photo book and began shooting entrepreneurs across industry sectors who turned to heart as their ‘go to’ for decision making. Tony Hsieh was among my ‘picks’ — it was a project that I never completed but had a blast in the creation process. I don’t even remember the city where we had the photo shoot but I do remember that it was just the two of us in a small hotel suite where the lighting was far from ideal. My own primitive lighting system wasn’t good enough for the backdrops and so we had to make do. He was more than indulgent when I asked him to stand on the couch or up against silly props, and he simply smiled in a way that always put me at ease.
When his book came out, I somehow found myself at nearly every book party and not just in the United States. There were parties in France and Ireland, as well as in the likely suspects in the states, like NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Austin. He would hand his books out like candy so I had collected many over the years and at one particular event, he gave me more than a dozen. I used to keep them in the trunk of my car and after a networking gathering or a coffee or lunch meeting, if I felt the person could benefit from his book, I’d give one away.
This went on for years and we used to joke about it whenever we saw each other. “You’d think that you worked for me,” he always said with a laugh. The truth is: I loved the book and it felt so ‘full’ compared to the ’emptiness’ from so many other start-up books I had read at the time. His ‘voice’ exuded heart and purpose…at least it felt so to me.
And, his passion echoed elsewhere as well, which went on to create community, the Happiness Bus Tour and others within his sphere who would also spread the value of happiness as an important ROI at the workplace.
Tony Hsieh: His Soul’s Imprint Lives On
So friends, I write this piece as a tribute to his ‘physical experience’ as Tony Hsieh in this timeline and in this reality. I write this piece as a nod to the contributions he made to humanity, speaking up and out on the importance of living from a place of heart, purpose and ultimately a higher consciousness.
Although I lost track of him in recent years, the last two times I saw him, there was a sadness beneath those dark eyes. I couldn’t explain it nor did we have time for a “heart-to-heart” but I could sense and feel it — one of those innate kinda things we all have from time-to-time. As an empath who now teaches about consciousness and spirituality, I’ve always felt people’s emotions and not just from time-to-time, but almost always. It was as if his own “magic moments” had come to an end, or at a minimum diminished so much that he wanted to be elsewhere, like the Island of Misfit Toys. As a visionary, he loved to build and create so perhaps being at the top of an empire just didn’t offer the same magic. Had his most vibrant contribution to humanity felt too distant to recapture? Whatever it was, I noticed it both times I last saw him, deeply buried in his soul that others may have seen as well if they were present enough to feel it…sense it, know it.
The one thing I feel, sense and know now is that the Soul chooses its purpose and its ‘story,’ as well as its timeline and its own reality. You see, in a quantum world view, the particle and the wave exchange places. They can be one or the other or both. Physical matter such as our perceptions of who we are as physical human beings, the skyscrapers in the cities we frequent and even the houses in which we inhabit are projections in a way….and less real than we perceive them to be. Even if Einstein couldn’t make peace with all things quantum in the days of Bohr and Planck, he knew this deep down too.
Remember that we are not outside of time and space but we are time and space. From a mathematical model/perspective, its like a “fusing of the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional manifold.”
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” — Albert Einstein
And so my friends, Tony Hsieh’s Soul and its beautiful imprint lives on. Or, if that’s too much for the scientific materialists among you, then perhaps you can handle the notion that his Consciousness lives on. But for us mere mortals still imprisoned in our ‘shells’, living out this one quantum string that shows up as a theatrical play we perceive as reality, we shall miss his physical voice, touch and embrace. Or, the perception of them anyway.
We could say then, that from a quantum perspective, RIP Tony Hsieh takes on a new meaning, one which is full of life not rest.
Selected Industry Event Posts
- Zappos: A Wild Visual Tour
- SXSW 2013
- SXSW 2013 International Presence
- SXSW Happiness Panel
- SXSW 2012
- SXSW 2011 – Global Brands
- Happiness in the Workplace Panel
- SXSW 2011 – a Visual Tour
- SXSW 2011 – More Visuals
- SXSW 2010
- Tony Hsieh Speaks at Vatorsplash on Sustainable Happiness (2010)
- SXSW 2007