Pain - The Khuram Dhanani Blog
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Khuram Dhanani


Many successful entrepreneurs are driven to succeed as emotional compensation for trauma or loss. Such events may include the early death of a parent or sibling, physical abuse, bullying, being raised in a war zone, or living through a traumatic event such as a tornado, hurricane, tsunami, mass shooting, house fire, or terrorist attack. Experiences such as these may drive an individual to work tirelessly as a therapeutic means of escaping the trauma, soothing a traumatized psyche.

Material rewards and a comfortable lifestyle are sometimes perceived as compensation for negative experiences felt early in life. Professional achievement and social respect can also play soothing roles for those who have experienced trauma. 

It’s important to note that managing a business does not provide a complete escape from trauma that was experienced earlier in life. While working hard may be therapeutic, seeing a professional therapist is also advisable. Unfortunately, many successful entrepreneurs find themselves too absorbed in their work were convinced of their self-sufficiency to seek professional help. This untreated trauma can undermine the ability to effectively manage the business and can lead to depression, suicide, drug addiction, and other destructive behaviors. Seek professional help if you feel you may need it because, in the end, you, your loved ones, and your business will benefit.

It should come as no surprise that many well-known entrepreneurs have been driven, at least in part, by personal trauma. While we can’t get inside their minds to identify their emotions and motivations, careful examination of their biographies and achievements can provide substantial clues.

Henry Ford’s mother passed away when he was just 16. The pain created by this event appears to have motivated his personal journey, which ultimately altered the American social and industrial landscape. Ford developed an aptitude for tinkering with engines at an early age, and his mother’s death apparently severed any emotional ties he had to the family farm. Taking only a few belongings, he left his father and siblings and walked to Detroit where he found a job in a machine shop. His grief at losing his mother inspired him to pursue his dreams.

Many entrepreneurs who lived before the significant developments of medical science were no strangers to a personal loss of this kind. Jakob Fugger, for instance, was born into a wealthy, influential German family but lost his father at the age of 10, as well as three more siblings by the time he was 14.

When reading historical accounts, we often disregard such untimely deaths with a shrug, assuming they were normal for the time. However, the reality is that children in previous centuries felt the loss of a family member just as keenly as children today, and wealthy people grieve for their loved ones just as intensely as the impoverished. 

Despite the Fugger family’s wealth, young Jakob was almost certainly devastated by the many deaths in his family. At 14, he was called to join the family business, taking up some of the responsibilities of his deceased brothers. As his duties progressed, he helped transform the family trading business into one of the most influential financial institutions in Europe. It seems reasonable to imagine that Jakob Fugger threw himself into his work, determined to make his brothers and father proud by channeling his grief into a positive enterprise.

Sam Walton, the entrepreneur who created the Walmart retail empire, was a middle-aged multimillionaire when he underwent one of life’s most traumatic challenges. In the early 1980s, Walton noticed a significant loss of stamina and strength, alarming to the lifelong workaholic. On a visit to the doctor, it was discovered that he was suffering from hairy cell leukemia, a rare disorder.

Given a choice of treatments, Walton chose the one he felt would interfere least with his busy work schedule—an experimental regimen that was still in clinical trials. The other choice was a well-tested surgical option that could be debilitating for some time. A millionaire many times over, Walton could have easily chosen the surer course, even if it meant semi-or permanent retirement and handing the company reins to his executive team. Walton already had more than enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his days and provide a large estate to his heirs. Despite his wealth, the fear brought on by his leukemia diagnosis was probably psychologically crippling. Tempering the fear and pain, Walton dedicated himself even more deeply to his work, a typical response among entrepreneurs. 

Although his leukemia eventually went into remission, Walton succumbed to a second, unrelated form of cancer a decade later. He spent the years in between taking the Walmart concept to even greater heights. During this period, he created two of the most important steps in the company’s evolution—launching the Walmart Supercenter, and Sam’s Club. 

Walton’s most productive years occurred as he battled leukemia, a tiring, dispiriting process that leaves most patients depleted and exhausted. Instead of seeking refuge at home, he was determined to counter his challenges with entrepreneurial commitment. 

Feeling insufficient because of a traumatic experience in their lives, many entrepreneurs seek financial success to compensate for the pain and loss that’s affected their lives. Being wealthy can’t ever restore what’s been taken, but it can create a feeling of self-sufficiency that restores balance to an entrepreneur’s reflections and provides the strength of spirit for the challenges life continually brings.

Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani