The Drive To Feel Needed

July 7, 2023

In honor of Eva Haller, my guiding star in aging gracefully.

During my professional journey, I routinely encounter individuals demonstrating remarkable dedication and exertion. Consider the president of a company, steering a team of 30 people single-handedly. It is evident that he is swamped and burdened, which adversely impacts his physical health, mental wellness, and personal life.

In an attempt to lighten his load, I suggested reorganizing his organization, aiming for a more manageable number of direct reports. Surprisingly, he vehemently resisted. The crux, it appeared, was the more people who relied on him, the more he felt validated in his self-worth.

Such a potent desire to be needed can often overwhelm. Upon retirement, individuals who once viewed themselves as indispensable can transform into shells of their former selves, feeling hollow and aimless. Equally, some women, after dedicating years to raising their children, grapple with the "empty nest syndrome" once their children leave home. Their existence seemingly lacking purpose, they can fall into bouts of depression.

Similarly, company founders, long after stepping down from leadership, continue frequenting their former workplaces. Their lingering presence, driven by a desire to remain indispensable, more often creates confusion than value. Asking them to cease coming to work feels like a death sentence. Therefore, in my work, I propose giving them purposeful roles. Involve them in mentoring young employees or inducting newcomers. Let them document the company's history, preserving its legacy. Empower them to manage the family's philanthropic endeavors. They should never lose their sense of worth by serving a need.

Some retirees find solace and purpose in adopting dogs, cherishing the responsibility of caring for their faithful companions. Others volunteer at hospitals, guiding patients. It seems a raison d'être, an activity that fulfills a need of others, is crucial for our existence.

Here, then, is the recipe for decelerating the aging process:         

Never stop serving someone else’s needs. Find a reason to live, and you will live longer. You just cannot afford to die.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes