Lessons from the untimely death of Silicon Valley pioneer Dave Goldberg.


Dave Goldberg, a Silicon Valley pioneer and the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and an icon for working women since publishing her bestseller book “Lean-in”, died tragically in a treadmill accident last week. Dave, who was the CEO of SurveyMonkey at the time of his death, was much loved and truly mourned by the high powered Silicon Valley executives ; President Obama in sending his condolences , called him a true Silicon Valley entrepreneur. In her own tribute posted on Facebook, his wife Sheryl Sandberg penned the most moving words, recalling a husband and a father who was her soul mate and her friend.

As the rich and the famous of Silicon Valley came to pay their respects to the auditorium at the Stanford University along with the Hollywood elite, Bono who sang, George Lucas and Ben Affleck among them, what stood out was how the life of a father , a husband and a true friend was celebrated sincerely. Very little was mentioned about business, although both Dave and Sheryl are globally recognized for their tech related achievements. Although Goldberg was primarily known for his success as an entrepreneur, he was also a man full of life, according to those who were there to remember their friend, their colleague.

In writing about his untimely death at the age of 47, while on vacation with his family in Mexico, Fortune called it a ‘solemn reminder to the workaholics and strivers in the room : life is short and there’s more to it than work’. Which brings me to my chosen topic of the day. A man whom most of us would dream of becoming, whose achievements have formed a part of Silicon Valley history, whose achievements would no doubt make up the textbooks we would love to read up in business school curriculums, died alone on treadmill, miles away from his businesses, a mere room’s distance away from his family. He wasn’t found for hours as he lay there bleeding. What lessons does his death teach us? What insights can we obtain from such a sad and untimely tragedy?

The first one would be of course that there is more to life than work. As much as all of us feel that priority should be given to work not only because it puts the rice on the table but also because it gives us our very own identity. It defines who we are to ourselves and others. And so, without realizing it, we make it our idol. Without comprehending it, some of us become workaholics in the process and can stay that way for a long long time. Clearly, this is a mistake.

It is important to find the time to do other things in life than are truly meaningful. We need to find the time to connect with our families – spend those precious moments with the growing up children. Find time for the spouse. Spend time with them doing the small things that add meaning to life. As Sheryl Sandberg must now recall, the happy moments they spent as a family would help her and the children remember their beloved husband and father with fond memories. Can everyone be sure it would be the same if the call came tomorrow?

Life is in the details. We need to learn the lessons early to stop where we maybe going well over the top. As Fortune so aptly put it, everyone wanted to remember the kind of man Dave Goldberg was – not the entrepreneur founder/ tech guru / internet pioneer and every other title he truly earned in his ground breaking career in Silicon Valley. And that is what does matter in the end.

What kind of a man or a woman are you? Is the office your centre stage, where you play the main role and where you are supremely confident of being in control. Or are you the sort who closes the lid on the lap top and calls it a day and head home to play with the kids and help your wife make dinner? Or worse, you do go home but take the work with you and are back at your computer as the children watch TV?

If you are, then there are many more poignant lessons we can learn from a family that just lost the anchor of their home. People die. Sometimes way too soon. What memories are you leaving behind? In her eulogy, Sheryl said that she felt they didn’t spend enough time together but admitted, through tears, that she was grateful for the memories. Could that be said of you?

Many will say they do not have the time, as if by rote– to spend with the kids and family except perhaps on vacations. But it looks more like a case of finding the time. If we try hard, we can always find the time to do the things that are important to us. In the end, it is not the career that makes us but the time we spend, the memories we leave behind with those who are most precious to us. The other day, I remember reading about yet another tech entrepreneur, an Indian American, who chose to give be his stellar career to watch his daughter grow. Someone had come to his senses – not that we need to take such drastic measures as leaving a career but cutting down work to a sensible level can go a long way in achieving a balance in life.

Finding the time to do the things we love are also important – Dave Goldberg engaged in many charity initiatives, one of which was a project he worked on with Ben Affleck in Africa. What things are we giving back to the community, taking time away from our very busy careers? Those projects that give back to the community, add meaning to life as we lead it and leave a legacy behind that can add significance to our roles as members of the community and society at large.

If there’s anything we can learn from Dave Goldberg’s tragic death, it is that life is a lot more than career or a business. It is in being able to build our lives and our careers anchored on those truths.

May you truly be able to find the time to spend with your family this weekend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s