Elements | April 2014

Entrepreneurment and the Third Third of Life

By Walter C. Wright Jr.

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"Retirement" is a word without substance. What does it mean? How do you think about the rest of your life? Recently I read an article profiling Millennials. One of the characteristics listed was "entrepreneurment." I googled the word and found almost no occurrences . . . except for one course title at a class in Russia, I think. But the word sticks with me. It is a great substitute for 'retirement'.

Entrepreneurment can start at any point in life. The Millennial profile suggests that it begins in the 20s. As I watch many friends and family members in their 40s I recognize this entrepreneurial yearning to work for oneself, to be one's own manager, to design and pursue one's own agenda for life and work. I suggest that it is also an appropriate descriptor for the third third of life. Life and work are not distinct spheres. They are woven together -- being, working, learning, belonging, contributing, loving are all integrated in the fabric of life. We express ourselves, our purpose, our calling, our beliefs and values in our work and our relationships. Sometimes we are paid for it. At all times we choose how we will live and work -- who we intend to be.

As I entered my 60s, I initiated a conversation with my mentor, Max De Pree, chair of the Fuller Board of Trustees: how do I think about the next third of my life? That four-year conversation surfaced an outline of questions that Max and I have developed into a study guide recently published by IVP, The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future.

For me Max is a great model for the entrepreneurment stage of life. In his 60s he left his position as CEO of Herman Miller and became a part-time chair of the board. At the same time Max deepened his involvement at Fuller Seminary and accepted mentoring relationships with about a dozen of us fortunate to benefit from his wisdom and experience. He also began writing, publishing four best-selling books on leadership and four intimate books for his grandchildren on the family history. He was actively sought as a speaker and consultant. Obviously Max did not "retire." Rather he enlarged his entrepreneurment portfolio, initiating a diverse agenda of activities in which to live out his purpose in life. Max always asks us: "Who do you intend to become?" "What are you learning?" "What do you owe?" These are still the questions he asks himself each day.

Now I work with business, church, and nonprofit leaders who have accumulated vast experience to mine for wisdom. Yet many have given little thought to whom they intend to be as they shift by choice or by time into entrepreneurment. I also work with organizations and leaders deeply committed to addressing the needs of a hurting world. They need volunteers, consultants, mentors, coaches, board members, and donors. The match seems obvious.

At 60 most people can look forward to 20, 30, or even 40 more years of life. What might God do with that time and all you have learned the past decades? Today is just the beginning. Moses was 80 when he saw the burning bush; he lived until 120. Noah was 600 when God asked for an ark; he lived until 900. The third third is filled with potential.

Have you begun entrepreneurment? How has God used you to date? How will your purpose find expression over the rest of your life? What makes you weep? How might you help? With whom do you discuss the exciting possibilities?

Walter C. Wright, Jr. is a Senior Fellow at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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