Sohu founder and CEO Charles Zhang is, by the standards of most tech entrepreneurs, doing very well. His startup has long since blossomed into a full-blown tech giant, and success has brought him both prestige and heaps of money. Yet in a recent interview on Yang Lan One-on-One, Zhang told the host that he is actually miserable:
I think there’s something wrong with me. I truly have everything, and yet I am so miserable. Happiness is totally unrelated to how much money you have.
Zhang has reportedly removed himself from the day-to-day operations of the company and has stayed out of the public limelight (for the most part) over the past year. In the Yang Lan interview, he revealed that this was because his anxiety was making it impossible for him to work. He also said that he had found his success was changing him:
Successful people often have this need to do things their own way. [After I became successful] I became more of a perfectionist; I wanted to control the outcome of everything, and even felt that I could live to the age of 150.
More details and quotes from the interview are here for those who can read Chinese, but instead of speculating about Zhang’s mental state, I just want to highlight a couple of the things we can learn from this interview.
Many of us are entrepreneurs searching for that big breakthrough or investors working hard to turn money into more money, and Zhang’s reminder that money cannot buy happiness might be cliche, but it’s important to remember. Of course, that’s not to say that having lots of money isn’t nice (or at least I imagine it’s nice; if anyone wants to send me a huge sum of money I’d be happy to give that lifestyle a try and review it here). But if money is your endgame, it’s possible you’ll end up like Zhang, standing at the top of a pyramid and wondering why bothered to climb it in the first place.
The other thing Zhang’s interview reminds is that success can and does change people. Maybe Zhang’s issues are deeper than that and maybe they aren’t — I’m not qualified to speculate on anyone’s mental state one way or the other. But it’s important to keep an eye on your own psyche as you move through the entrepreneurship process and make sure that you’re OK with any changes that are happening. Becoming more of a perfectionist might be a good thing to some people, but others may want to avoid becoming a domineering control freak (and let’s be honest, there are plenty of startup founders who fit that description even before they’re successful).
We wish Zhang the best, as we do to all entrepreneurs at every stage of the game from bootstrappers to billionaires. At the same time, though, I wish that everyone in the startup scene would spend a little more time thinking about their own definitions of happiness and the effects being an entrepreneur can have on their psyche. We spend so much time talking about what technology is innovative, and yet many of us are chasing the exact same goal: make a globally relevant product and get rich. Perhaps sometimes we should approach our own thinking patterns with the same spirit of disruption and innovation we bring to hackathons and tech conferences.
The post ‘Despite All the Money, I’m Not Happy.’ Startup Lessons from Sohu CEO Charles Zhang appeared first on Tech in Asia.
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