Why Entrepreneurs Continue to Work

In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote about the importance of purpose and a goal in one’s life. An Austrian psychiatrist, he wrote from the perspective of having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. His life in Auschwitz and his subsequent research confirmed that people who lose their sense of purpose could will themselves to die.

We all need a purpose, and for many entrepreneurs it is working at their business that provides that purpose. We need something to strive for, to stretch ourselves until the day we die; thus we extend our lives. All your life, you’ve been living with gaps that you’ve tried to close. The difference between what is and what you would like it to be. You’ve had mortgages and loans to pay off, properties to buy, places to go, new product lines to develop, new ways of doing business, new markets to pursue, and competitors to beat. If you suddenly stop, and there is no work, no creative tension in your life, you’re in danger of losing your sense of purpose and your will to live.

When I was growing up, my family farmed next to a neighbour who always seemed ancient to me. In his seventies, he still farmed with a team of horses, worked hard every day and, frankly, was stronger than me – even when I was a teenager. At 80 he was still wiry and strong, and worked as hard as any of us. But, at last he agreed with those who pushed him to sell the farm, move into town, and take it easy. Within 18 months he was dead. All his outdoor activity, his exercise, his routines, his love for his horses, and his sense of purpose were gone. Although those who insisted he move from the farm had the best of intentions, tragically the move became his death sentence.

Many entrepreneurs don’t plan to retire. While it may not be a conscious decision or clearly articulated, they fear losing their sense of purpose. They continue working in order to live a meaningful life. Others, who do retire, find purpose in volunteering, coaching young entrepreneurs, investing in start-ups, being active grandparents, travelling or other avocations.

You have the choice to work or not through your retirement years. One isn’t better than the other. But to be healthy, we all need a purpose. If you choose to transition your business and retire, you must first transition yourself and identify new challenges, opportunities, and purpose to replace your need to work.

May 1, 2012

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