Oct 202011

Emotional reasons to be an entrepreneur

Emotional Reasons To Be An Entrepreneur

During the course of my 25-year plus career in entrepreneurship, I’ve coached and interacted with several thousand entrepreneurs, ALL of whom had one or several emotional reasons that drove them to set out on their own.  Here I will discuss several emotional reasons people choose to become and remain an entrepreneur.  I will map those emotions and feelings to a structure with which you are probably already familiar:  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  We’ll start at the bottom of the pyramid and work our way up.  In case you need a refresher, here is the structure.

Emotional Reasons To Be An Entrepreneur

Physiological and Security Needs

These are the basic survival needs we have as humans.  In order to survive, we must have air, food, water, and shelter, at a minimum.  Similarly, if we cannot stay safe physically, we are much less likely to survive for any length of time.

Some people become an entrepreneur simply because they need to earn money to satisfy these basic survival needs.  In some cases, there is no deeper reason; it’s just about survival.

Love and Affiliation Needs

It sounds counter-intuitive to say that someone would become an entrepreneur in order to satisfy love and affiliation needs.  These needs require interaction with other people and entrepreneurship is often seen as a “lone wolf” endeavor.  In fact though, there is a great deal of camaraderie among entrepreneurs.  Even though they often are individualistic by nature, there is a certain mutual respect that exists among those who are willing to strike out on their own, against the odds.  I have found many great friendships and professional relationships among the entrepreneurs with whom I’ve interacted and continue to interact.  They are my people.

Esteem Needs

I guess it’s logical and not at all surprising that in my experience at least, this is the main driver of entrepreneurial behavior.  Most entrepreneurs I know want to be perceived as unique and special.  I realize that this is true of most human beings, but for an entrepreneur, this need is often magnified.  They don’t want to be part of the crowd.  They want to make a personal statement in everything they do.  They are usually very proud and confident people, with a lot of drive and very strong desire to be respected for their achievements.

Purpose Needs

Next to esteem needs, I see purpose needs as being the biggest driver of entrepreneurial behavior, at least in my experience and observation.  Many an entrepreneur is asking the bigger questions about the purpose and meaning of life.  This is not true for all entrepreneurs, of course!  However, at least among the entrepreneurs with whom I spend a lot of time, there is a tendency to ask some existential questions and put quite a bit of time into seeking the answers.  This leads many entrepreneurs to explore spirituality and to seek opportunities to make contributions, beyond just the financial, to “the greater good” of society.  This is particularly true of those who have already become successful financially and have satisfied many of the other needs on the pyramid.

Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualization, which is the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy, has been used in many different ways in psychology.  From my perspective, it refers to reaching one’s full potential.  In the context of all the needs discussed in this article, it would mean reaching your maximum potential in each of the areas on the pyramid.  Obviously, this would have different meaning for each individual.  Thus, self-actualization is different for each person, as would be how that person’s entrepreneurial activities contribute to reaching their “full potential”.

It’s important to realize that we are all driven by emotions.  As I’ve written elsewhere, decisions are made based on emotion, then justified by logic.  In all cases where you are trying to understand human behavior, whether it be in purchasing decisions, or in why someone chooses to become an entrepreneur, follow the emotions and the feelings and you will find the answers.  Human beings, including and perhaps especially, entrepreneurs, run on emotions, just as a television runs on electricity.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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  • Thank you Paul for the refresh post on needs ! great discussion material for coaches and clients.

  • Alyson Miller

    Thank you Paul. Insightful post to wake to today – which I’ll tweet to others who share our interest in the entrepreneurial mindset. Having been involved heavily with a subset of entrepreneurs – scientists, engineers, inventors and artists – I’ve also recognized an innate need to create. This is an urge in some and an overriding drive in others – and hits touchpoints on virtually ALL of Maslow’s heirarchy. When we launched a new community of entrepreneurs in Boulder last month I wrote about it as one of the reasons we’re witnessing – and participating in – an explosion of entrepreneurial activity right now despite the bleak economic environment: http://www.pivotguild.com/blog/pivotguild-welcomes-you-to-the-tribe.

  • Paul, I really enjoyed this post. It was dead-on. I especially agree with your assessment of the camaraderie that is experienced between entrepreneurs. Maybe it’s the very fact that it can often be a solitary endeavor that makes me reach out to other entrepreneurs. Like you, I have built great relationships since leaving my day job. I meet more people now than ever!

    I’m curious–which reason do you have to be an entrepreneur?

  • Sherry Nouraini

    What a great insightful article, and I must agree with you that part of the joy and drive behind entrepreneurship is the personal satisfaction that one gets from it. It is interesting to read your blog and find myself here, very interesting.

  • Hi, Anne. Yes, great for coaches and clients. As you know, it all boils down to emotions. If we can understand the emotional drivers, we can do just about anything! Paul

  • Hi, Alyson. Thanks for your comments. I especially like your point about an “innate need to create”. That really resonates with me! I can absolutely see where it would hit all layers in Maslow’s Hierarchy. I look forward to staying in touch. It sounds like a very interesting community of entrepreneurs you’re creating! Paul

  • Thanks, Gwen. I agree. That camaraderie amongst entrepreneurs is something special. Thanks for your question regarding my reasons for being an entrepreneur. I don’t think I’d be stretching it to tell you that my reasons touch on every level of Maslow’s Hierarchy! I’ve been an incurable entrepreneur since I was a little kid. I’ve always been attracted to entrepreneurship and it has treated me very well over my entire career, so there is nothing pulling or pushing me away from it. In what is probably a logical and common progression, as time has gone on, I’ve begun to gravitate more and more toward the existential questions, which has, in turn, led me more and more in the direction of helping other entrepreneurs. Paul

  • Thanks, Sherry. I’m happy you enjoyed the article. Emotions, as far as I can tell, drive entrepreneurs and everyone else. At the end of the day, we can trace all of our actions and decisions back to emotions and feelings, so I thought it would be interesting to look at entrepreneurship in this light. Paul

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  • Jason Fonceca

    This post is epic, fantastic, and so necessary.

    There’s millions of tiny reasons to be an entrepreneur, little life-details, but these broad-stroked emotions really get to the core of it.

    You might note that these benefits come only when you “commit” to being an entrepreneur, not when you’re half-a$$ing it.

    Thanks for this, Paul!

  • Thanks, Jason. I’m happy you enjoyed the post!

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