Ecomom tragedy is lesson for us all

© Chris Tackett

We recently noted the tragic news of Ecomom CEO Jody Sherman's suicide and that the green retail site would subsequently be shutting down.

Today, Alexis Tsotsis at TechCrunch gathers some reactions from Ecomom investors and highlights an important point about success and failure:

As popular culture continues to glamorize startups, the harsh reality that 90 percent of them fail is consistently ignored.

And later notes what the fear of failure does to people's psyche:

The industry has a tendency to make pariahs out of startups that aren’t doing so well, so “never show weakness” becomes a koan, to the point of self-delusion. TechCrunch gets pitched hundreds of “Top Ten Ways To Be A Successful Entrepreneur” guest posts from entrepreneurs who quite honestly aren’t that successful themselves.

This super-human stoicism is at best superficial and myopic to the human component of so much of our business. The emotional travails of deciding what to build, how to build it, who to build it with, when, where, why, with whose money, etc. are harrowing. And it’s even worse when the investors are your friends and family versus nameless pension funds. Losing the savings of people you admire cuts deep.

I think this lesson can be expanded to the clean tech and alternative energy industry, as well as just green living, in general.

First, to the point of success versus failure, with any burgeoning industry, there will be failures. Solyndra, for example, has become a war cry of Republicans who see the failed solar company as evidence that clean energy is, at best, a naive fantasy destined to always fail and at worst, a liberal scam that somehow will line the pockets of Al Gore. In reality, however, Solyndra was just one of many companies that are trying to get a foot hold in a growing industry. It's failure does not mean this industry will not continue to grow and thrive.

And to the point about super-human stoicism and emotional health, I think this is something environmentalists, especially, need to work on. In year's past, a major focus of the green movement was how to live green. TreeHugger has thousands of articles with such advice. And Ecomom catered to that audience. And this was and is just fine. When one learns of environmental issues, the first and often easiest things to do is to change one's own habits. Or at least change the lightbulbs. Voting with one's dollars and "being the change" is an important part of this movement.

But I also think it is easy for people to be too hard on themselves. And I know it is far too easy to be too hard on others. With all these checklists of ways to be green, what people too often forget is that there is not just one way to live sustainably. There is not one "right" way to be in this world. We risk missing the forest for the trees when we chide each other for not being vegan or for forgetting our bags at the store, when the much bigger issues we should be united on are stopping the fossil fuel industry from putting more carbon into the atmosphere, to name just one example.

The story of Ecomom is a tragic one, and the reasons behind Sherman's suicide are no doubt complex, but there are lessons to be learned here. Whether you're starting a business or just trying to live a more sustainable life, remember to go easy on yourself. Take time to relax. And don't lose sight of the bigger picture.

Tags: Living With Less

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