The Encore Career Handbook
It’s Time for Your Encore
“Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do.”
In the past one hundred years, the average life span in the United States has expanded from forty-seven to seventy-eight years. By any account, longer lives should be a cause for celebration. But all this extra time can also create anxiety.
Like Betty Friedan’s housewife in The Feminine Mystique, millions of people are grappling, alone, with a nameless problem shared by millions of others. What do we do with these additional years? How do we make use of this extra time while we are still vital and engaged? And how do we pay for all that extra time? We wonder how to leave a legacy, contribute, and make money—and, if we’re lucky, find our bliss along the way.
You probably picked up this book because you’re facing a similar question. You’ve hit a wall, lost a job, or are just wondering “Is this all there is?” Maybe your retirement plan has been shattered. Maybe the word “retirement” doesn’t even resonate with you. You may be forty and thinking about planning for another thirty years of work, or fifty-five and thinking of a ten- or fifteen-year third act, or seventy and wondering how to find a part-time job that would add money and meaning to your life.
The good news is that you still have time: Time to follow, or discover, your passion. Time to do something that matters. Time to help yourself—and others, too. We all have more time to make the most of our lives.
Second Acts for a Better World
There’s a new trend afoot. Growing numbers of baby boomers are rewriting the narrative of twenty-first-century midlife by crafting a new stage of work: an encore career for the greater good. These pioneers have realized that with midlife comes a newfound capacity to tap into their accumulated experience and wisdom to accomplish new things, often in ways they were unable to do earlier in their lives.
The desire to have a positive impact in the world seems to grow stronger with age, as if it were programmed into our midlife DNA. It’s not hard to figure out why. By this time in life, people have identified plenty of things that need fixing, and they’ve also figured out that helping others is one of the easiest ways to get a happiness boost. And although for many it may finally be time to play the flute or open an artisanal bakery, there is also a compelling urge at midlife to make a mark in a way that leaves things a little better for future generations. (Psychologist Eric Erickson called this kind of thinking “generativity.”) With age often comes the anticipation of regret (what if I never . . .), as well as a sense of urgency (if not now, when?) and a sense of responsibility (if not me, who?). Some hit midlife and reconnect with the idealism of youth, when everything felt possible.
Interestingly, this urge to make the world a better place seems to kick in for those who never thought of themselves as do-gooders as well as those who have dedicated their entire lives to so-called social purpose work. The former find ways to get started; the latter usually decide it’s time to have impact in a whole new way.
What’s more, there’s evidence that shows we may be hardwired for big accomplishments at midlife. We all know that certain things inevitably decline with age—we can’t grab the name of that actor in that movie or we can’t remember if we fed the cat; and restaurants become a minefield, with those menus you can’t read (in dim light) and tablemates you can’t hear (amid the ambient noise). But the latest neuroscience research shows that some things improve as we pack on the years. We become more empathic, we get better at synthesizing ideas, making connections between disparate ideas, and solving complex problems. We actually grow smarter in some ways—you know, that whole wisdom thing.
These ideas have been confirmed in study after study, and in the narratives of people’s lives. Mark Walton, a CNN-news-anchor-turned-leadership-coach, studied the phenomenon of later-life achievement for his book, Boundless Potential, and concluded that people who remain engaged and creative into their seventies, eighties, and beyond are not only common, but they may represent what later life is supposed to look like. “You may forget where you put the keys, but you may be able to settle a major labor dispute,” Walton told me, adding, “What we think of as those ‘senior moments’ are very normal events that most likely mean we were thinking about something else.” That may explain why the average age in Congress is hovering around sixty—and why world leaders continue to wield power or great artists often hit their prime well past the years typically considered to be most productive.
There is also a very practical need driving this activity: These bonus years don’t come with a prepaid gift card. With the recession’s impact on retirement savings and the decline of pensions, the encore career offers a new model for providing continued income in your later years.
It’s this search for purpose, passion, and a paycheck that coalesces into an encore career—continued work that combines personal meaning with social purpose. The grandmother who embarks on law school at fifty, sparked by an injustice she sees in her community. The advertising director who retires to become an art teacher, working another fifteen years and tapping into reservoirs of creativity she remembers from her own school years. The unemployed engineer who travels abroad, sees a problem, and returns home with an idea for a solution—and starts a thriving business.
The encore crowd is diverse. It’s white collar, blue collar, and no collar, with an increasing number of virtual workers who never set foot inside a physical workplace. It includes people who have never finished college and people with multiple degrees. It includes people who have little in savings and are as consumed with finding a way to earn a living as they are with wanting to do something that matters. And there are those solely motivated by altruism.
Encore careers are commonly sparked by something on the work front—a layoff, the approach of retirement, an itch to reinvent. Just as often, an encore is shaped by what’s happening outside of work—an empty nest, the loss of a parent, the end of a marriage, a new romance, an illness, or a move from the suburbs to the city.
Research shows that roughly 9 million people are already in encore careers and another 31 million are keen to move in the same direction. Although they come from different places, large numbers of people in their encore years are looking for the same thing—making a living while making a difference.
Contrary to the ubiquitous magazine profile of the lawyer-turned-teacher, moving into new kinds of work is not quick or easy. Usually, the transition is a slow metamorphosis involving baby steps, detours, persistence, creativity, and a do-it-yourself spirit. Some find their encores through a subtle tweaking of what came before, but many find the need or desire for a wholesale reinvention. This is complicated at any age, and all the more so when your friends and family worry that you’ve lost your mind, and when the workplace seems dominated by young people not exactly warm to working alongside people who look like their parents.
As more people begin their encores and more organizations step up to provide assistance and pathways, these shifts are getting a little easier. Local programs and encore-focused career coaches are cropping up in cities across the country to help people through this transition. Community colleges are offering courses specifically designed for people retraining for encore careers in fields like health care, green jobs, social services, and teaching. Encore fellowships now offer pathways for corporate managers who want to retrain for jobs in nonprofits. And organizations like the Transition Network, ReServe, and Coming of Age are rapidly expanding into new cities as hubs for people who want a supportive and helpful community as they build their encores.
This support is important—necessary even—because reinvention can be hard. And scary. I’ve talked to people who haven’t written a résumé in thirty years, and for whom the thought of posting a profile, let alone a photo, on LinkedIn is daunting, self-promotional, and just plain weird. Researching academic programs and looking for internships when a child or grandchild is doing the same can feel awkward, maybe even ridiculous. And what about the fear of being greeted for an interview by someone who doesn’t look old enough to have a job? What’s been missing (until now) is a road map to take you through all the stages of your encore journey, from your daydreams through all the challenges—and triumphs—you’ll face along the way, to the first day of your new adventure.
Getting to Your Encore Moment
So how do you know if you’re ready for your encore? Usually there is a combination of signs—a set of challenges, obstacles, or realizations signaling that it is time for a change.
Everyone’s encore story is different, but just as other life stages are marked by rites of passage, they fall into some familiar patterns. As you read the following stories, think about whether one—or more than one—of these scenarios is familiar to you. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself nodding in agreement with several or all of them. There’s a lot of overlap here.
At fifty-three, with her children grown and launching their own careers and families, Suwon Smith finally had a chance to assess her life. She’d risen through the ranks at CitiGroup in New York City, picked up a college degree at night along the way, and somehow managed it all as a single mother. Her reward? Working six days a week, twelve hours a day. Suddenly it hit her. “It was just me and I didn’t have to work like that anymore.” Smith left her job with no plan for what to do next. The day after her resignation, she entered a period she called being “lost in the sauce.” She was used to the phone ringing all day, and suddenly she was home and everyone around her was busy in their own lives. She first had to reestablish relationships with friends and family, but in time, she was ready to focus on herself.
If you’re “Burning Out,” you just can’t keep up with the pace of your life anymore. You need to catch your breath, step off the treadmill, get out of the rat race (choose your cliché). But you probably can’t even think about what’s next until you figure out a way to slow yourself down.
A Nagging Feeling
During her twenty-seven years at the National Educational Association in Washington, D.C., Nancy Kochuk had seen others stick around long past their expiration date. She’d promised herself that she would leave before that happened to her. “Most days I loved what I did and the routine was comfortable, but I had this nagging feeling that it was time to stretch myself a bit and do some other things,” she said. So eighteen months after she became eligible, Kochuk retired. She gave herself what her husband calls “time to dance,” along with time to do and teach more yoga, travel, and go to the theater. She had a “desire to give back” but needed time to figure out what that meant to her.
If you have a “Nagging Feeling,” you may have no idea what you want to do, but you have the sense that something has to change. You may take a leap and jump into something entirely new. Or you may start by taking small steps to explore ideas and opportunities until something clicks.
A Dream Deferred
Daniel Shungu always wanted to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help his native country, a place he’d last seen when he left to attend college in the United States at age nineteen. When his son, Nick, won a full scholarship to Duke University, two dreams coalesced. Nick got to attend a great school, and Shungu was freed from huge tuition payments. He realized he could afford to take early retirement from Merck, where he’d had a long career as a researcher and manager. Without a second thought, Shungu, then sixty, gave Merck two months’ notice and immediately planned his trip to Congo. That visit laid the foundation for what would become his encore work—starting United Front Against Riverblindness, an organization that brings medicine to the nearly 1 million people in remote Congolese villages suffering from or at risk of contracting river blindness, a disease that causes irreversible loss of sight.
If you’re in the “Dream Deferred” category, you’ve always wanted to do something—return to school, live in another country, work with young people, tap your creative side—and suddenly you’ve hit a time in your life where it begins to feel possible. It’s a second chance.
The End of the Line
After being laid off from her job as a forklift operator in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Priscilla Santiago did something she wished she had been able to do forty-three years earlier: She got her GED. And she didn’t stop there. She went on to get an associate’s degree at Housatonic Community College and a bachelor’s degree at Polk University, where she graduated at sixty-three. Santiago’s earlier education was derailed at sixteen when she dropped out of school after she was sexually abused. Nearly fifty years later, she’s hoping her degrees will help her assist other victims of abuse.
If you’ve gotten to “The End of the Line,” you’ve been laid off, your business has dried up, or your field has changed so significantly that you’re beginning to feel obsolete. At this point it would be just as hard to keep doing what you’ve always done than it would be to try something new. Between a recession that has decimated entire industries and the shift from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, just about every family seems to have someone who has reached this moment.
Sally Bingham’s three grown children were on their own, as was she, after the end of a long marriage. Bingham wondered what she would do and what she was even capable of doing. In all her years of marriage, she had never even managed her own money. Finding the courage to change, Bingham returned to college in her forties, then to seminary, ultimately becoming an ordained priest at the age of fifty-five. Now seventy, Bingham heads an organization she founded to help congregations make more environmentally sound decisions. To top it off, Bingham is earning a living for the first time in her life and a pretty significant one at that.
Illness, the death of someone dear, divorce, even an empty nest—these kinds of upheavals can all be the pivotal point for an encore shift. If you’ve experienced “A Loss,” you may find that the way to move forward is to immerse yourself in a project that channels your grief or emotional energy into purposeful work.
A Crisis of Conscience
Marcy Gray Rubin remembers the moment when she knew she would leave a successful career as a television writer. Her father was terminally ill, and she’d taken off from work to spend time with him. She’d only been gone a few days when her agent called. “Just let me know when it’s a done deal,” he said, “so you can fly back for the pilot season.” Rubin fired her agent that day and stayed with her father until his death six weeks later. After a period of mourning, she focused on finding a new career. “I just had to get away from a world where a lousy parking space or a bad hair day are considered important,” she said. After going back to school for her master’s degree, Rubin is now a practicing psychologist. Her new life has its trade-offs. She makes a fraction of what she made as a television writer, but she said she feels honored to do the work. “You get to be part of people’s lives in the most joyous and most tragic circumstances.”
“A Crisis of Conscience” can happen over an extended period or hit you suddenly, but you know you can’t continue what you’ve been doing any longer. You know there must be a better way to use your talents and earn a living.
“Hello, I used to be somebody. . . ”
You’ve been a banker, human resource specialist, salesperson, electrician, lawyer, whatever, for a long time. So expect to feel strange when you leave an identity behind and no longer have an easy way to describe yourself. You may also feel like what some have started calling a PIP (previously important person).
As you shift into a new identity, there’s no need to abandon what came before. You’ll likely find new ways to use skills, contacts, and instincts cultivated in earlier roles. You may even find that mentioning a former title or identity can be a help to something you’re trying to accomplish in your new work.
Dick Goldberg achieved renown as a playwright early in his career. Years later, he reinvented himself as a nonprofit executive director. (He runs Coming of Age, the national encore-oriented initiative based in Philadelphia.) When I asked him how he felt about moving away from his earlier identity, he put it this way: “I may not be the parent to a toddler anymore, but I’m still very much a dad. It’s like that with the writing. It’s not what I’m doing now, but it will always be a major part of my identity.”
Sure it can be awkward to meet new people when your public-facing identity is in flux. “I’m in transition,” may not feel right. So what do you say?
“I’m rewiring, not retiring.”
“I’m taking a sabbatical.”
“I’m busy exploring options for what’s next.”
“I’m training to be a ___.”
“I’m doing pro bono work to learn more about ___.”
“I’ve left ___ to find something more meaningful.”
“I’m searching for my encore.”
Are You a Leaper or a Planner?
Once you arrive at your encore moment—regardless of how you get there—there are pretty much two ways you can go forward. You can leap. Or you can plan. If you’re a leaper, an opportunity strikes and you plunge right in without much thought. After the initial leap, you may find that you dig in for a long period of time, having found your place. Equally likely, you may step back to reassess and adjust or find that the initial leap was just the first step on a longer journey.
Some Truths About Encore Careers
As you navigate the sometimes overwhelming waters of an encore transition, remember the following:
It is common to get to your encore years and not know what’s next. Many people are just finding the time to ponder the question.
Encore paths don’t look the same for everyone. Some people contemplating encore careers are empty nesters. Some are just getting around to raising kids. Some never had them. Some are getting divorced and some never married. Your life situation will shape what you can do, want to do, and need to do in these years.
Some people plan for years. Others slide into encore careers. Some will settle into new work that may last fifteen to twenty years. Others will shake it up every few years.
Encore work involves trade-offs. You may trade money for meaning and flexibility. You may trade power and influence for the chance to work more closely with people you can help.
Whereas many shifts into encore careers involve a salary cut, there are plenty of encore jobs that provide competitive pay and benefits.
Transitions will take longer than you think.
Patricia Brune was a leaper. Within seven days of retiring from a thirty-year position with the federal court system in Kansas City, Brune got a call from a friend asking if she’d consider filling in for a departing executive director at the local YMCA. Brune thought about it briefly and then jumped in. She said her learning curve was like drinking from a fire hose. “Court bureaucracies I knew,” she said. “Volunteers and children’s programming, not so much.”
Barbara Gomperts took a more cautious approach. After a few massage sessions relieved her of chronic pain in her shoulders and knee, she was determined to do for others what her therapist had done for her. She researched massage training programs catering to midcareer people with full-time jobs. She compressed her schedule at the university where she works as an office manager from five days to four. And she and her husband made some extra cash by selling their house and moving to a less expensive townhouse. After she is certified as a therapist, she plans to launch her own massage practice and slowly move away from her office job.
If you’re a planner, you do your homework and come up with an idea, then research options about how to make it happen. You may be waiting to hit a milestone—last child off to college, an eligibility age for early retirement, a round amount of savings that makes you comfortable taking a risk. You may modify the way you work so that you have some free time for an immersion experience like an internship or volunteer work. You may need some new skills or even a certification or degree. Whatever the case, if you’re a planner, you’re thinking about the steps to an encore before you pull the trigger.
My Early Encore Moment
Like Marcy Gray Rubin, I can identify the exact moment I knew I had to make a change in my working life. I was on vacation in Rio de Janeiro when I got a call from my boss asking if I’d consider coming home early to work on a matter that had heated up in my absence. I didn’t even give it a moment’s thought; I knew I wouldn’t come home.
Even though I was a hard worker, I didn’t care about what I was doing as an in-house lawyer for a magazine subscription company. In fact, I felt like I was using my talents in a way that didn’t mesh with my values. The request to sacrifice even more of my life for a job I didn’t feel good about was just the push I needed to do something about it. As soon as I got home, I gave notice and began the process of figuring out my next steps. After nearly a decade as a lawyer, I was ready to return to an earlier interest—writing.
In time I became a freelance journalist, as well as a writing teacher/coach. It wasn’t easy. And it took years. I had to retrain myself and build an entirely new network in a new field. And while I had achieved some level of seniority as a lawyer, I was a beginner in journalism, competing against “kids” right out of school for assignments. Hard as it was, it was worth it. I ended up in a career that fit me a whole lot better than the one I left. And I was so profoundly affected by going through a career change that the topic of work and careers became the focus of my writing.
For the next ten years, I wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about how the workplace was changing and how people were changing to keep up and stay afloat. I wrote mostly for The New York Times, where I created the “Shifting Careers” column and blog. I also taught freelance journalism and coached aspiring writers. Along the way, I wrote a book, One Person/Multiple Careers, about the phenomenon of slashers—people who, like me (lawyer/writer/teacher), had trouble describing their working lives without the use of a slash or two.
Through my New York Times column, I got a chance to interview Marc Freedman, the author and social entrepreneur who helped create the Purpose Prize, which awards $100,000 to social innovators over the age of sixty who are making extraordinary contributions in their encore careers. Freedman had just published his latest book, Encore, about a group of people finding ways to use their experience to give back in the years formerly occupied by retirement. I read Encore, did an extensive interview with Freedman, and wrote a column about the way he looks at new stages of life. Unlike other stories I’d done, this one stuck with me. While so many people bemoan the wave of aging boomers as a demographic disaster, Freedman sees just the opposite—a huge population with the potential to use their later working years to contribute to the greater good in all kinds of ways. It made sense to me. People wanted and needed to work longer, but just as I’d felt earlier in my career, so many of us want to work in a way that matters, a way that feels different from what came before.
In the meantime, I was trying to figure out my own place in the changing landscape of journalism. Though I relished my work as a writer, it was becoming increasingly difficult to make a living as a freelancer. The New York Times canceled my column for financial reasons, and while I was looking for other assignments, I started to wonder if there were ways I might be able to use my background on careers and workplace issues to help people more directly. Oddly, after years of advocating the benefits of an independent working life, I was also hankering to be a part of a team.
Which is how I came to work at Encore.org, where I spend my time learning about what it takes to make encore careers a reality for more people and sharing that information through appearances and interviews in the media, public speaking, writing articles, and now this book.
People often ask if I’m in an encore career myself, and the answer is a little fuzzy. I often describe the encore period as the time in one’s fifties or sixties, and even seventies. But those of us in our forties are often laying the foundation for what our encore years will look like. When I took this job and moved into the nonprofit sector, I saw it as a career shift that would prepare me for my next twenty-plus years of work. So in that sense I’m in the planning stages of my own encore.
I’ll be your main guide throughout this book. But you’ll also hear from others—career coaches, financial experts, encore entrepreneurs, and lots of people who are making encore careers a new reality, in the way a leisure-based retirement was for our parents’ generation.
Along the way, I’ll share pieces of my own transition story where it’s relevant. You’ll also read dozens of stories of people in their encore years—people who are struggling with uncertainty as well as some who’ve come out the other side with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. You’ll even meet some who’ve given up or abandoned plans when they didn’t have the drive, the time, or the money to push forward.
Transition stories can seem easy, too easy, so I intentionally included the strugglers to make it real. Going back to school, learning new technology, and getting advice from mentors young enough to be your kids can be both exciting and terrifying. I hope this book makes it easier for you.
Keep in mind that your transition is not only deeply personal but also part of a bigger story. As you find ways to use your talent and experience to do something useful in the world, you’re also participating in a growing social movement that may just change what it means to hit midlife. You have the opportunity for a triple win: You can make an impact through your work. You can experience the sense of renewal that comes with doing something new and significant. And you can help change expectations—for future generations—about what success in and beyond midlife looks like. That’s a big potential payoff.
How to Use This Book
Figuring out your encore—what it’ll look like, when it’ll start, how you’ll afford it—is a highly personal process. People are finding and crafting opportunities even in a slow job market. But they are rarely doing it by applying to job postings. In almost all cases, they are finding or creating roles through networking, volunteering, and retooling for a new kind of work. A large number are skipping out on jobs altogether and going solo either as freelancers, consultants, or encore entrepreneurs. Just as there’s no one destination, there’s no one path to follow. Which is why this book doesn’t take you through a chronological process. Rather, the chapters address particular issues that may come up for you (possibly multiple times) throughout your transition.
You might decide to go through the chapters in order, treating the book like your own Encore 101 course. But feel free to read out of order, dipping into the chapters in a way that makes the most sense given where you are right now. Taking the Encore Readiness Quiz on the previous page will give you a sense of where to start.
The Encore Readiness Quiz
Are you ready for your encore? Take a look at the following ten questions and answer each one yes, no, or maybe. If your answer sheet is loaded with nos and maybes, you’re probably more in the planning than the launching phase of your encore. You will likely benefit from investing some time in the early chapters of the book. If you’ve got a lot of yeses, you might find yourself drawn to some of the later chapters; consider starting with Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.
- Are you in a place in your life where you can comfortably move forward in your encore without having to deal with another pressing aspect of your life (e.g., where you live, caring for someone else, getting through a health issue)?
- Do you have some ideas for what you might want to do next?
- Is there some issue you can’t stop thinking about?
- Do you have a sense of how far away you are from making a big change in your working life?
- Do you feel financially ready to make a shift?
- Do you have someone you can comfortably talk to about your ideas and plans?
- Are you open to the idea of taking classes or doing some other kind of on-the-job learning to update your skills or learn something new?
- Do you know what kind of environment you want to work in and how much time you want to work?
- Do you know if you want to work for yourself or for an organization?
- Can you succinctly describe where you are in your encore process or what it is you want to do?
Chapter 2 explores the whats and hows of encore work. You’ll want to start here if you’re wondering where the best opportunities and greatest needs are—and how people set up their working lives. If you’d find it helpful to peek at some promising encore jobs, jump right to the Encore Hot List on page 255.
Chapter 3 will help you identify what your encore could look like: What are you looking for at this stage of your life? What does purpose mean for you? What about passion? What would make you eager to get to work each day? What do you want your work to include and what would you be thrilled to never do again?
Chapter 4 will help you create the time and space in your life for an encore transition.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 deal with the nitty-gritty of encore transitions: How much money do you really need? How do you connect with new people and communities? How do you talk about yourself when you’re a work in progress? How do you update a fifteen-year-old résumé? Do you still need business cards? (The answer is yes, but your email signature or online profile might be just as important.)
Chapter 8 gets you out of your head and into the world—giving you ideas for ways to go out and do the things that will help you hone your ideas and move forward.
Chapter 9 will help if you’re considering going back to school—whether for a couple of courses or a certificate or degree.
Chapter 10 is for the growing number of people considering encore entrepreneurship.
You may not want to wait until the very end to read Chapter 11, which tackles some of the bigger issues people deal with once they’re in their encore. I think you’ll find it illuminating—and inspiring—at any point along your encore journey.
Answering Your Questions
After talking to hundreds of people who have moved into encores or are trying to get started, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard almost every question that comes up. In each chapter, I’ve tried to anticipate what you might be wondering as we go along. Sometimes, that will happen right in the main text. I will also include a bunch of questions clumped together at the end of each chapter. So I urge you to take a good look at the “FAQs” (frequently asked questions), as it’s pretty likely there will be answers you were looking for.
Can I really make a living doing something I love that also makes a difference in the world?
It very much depends on what you love doing. If you love playing the ukulele and are determined to both make a living and do some good in the world, you might have a harder time than if you love fund-raising for a cause you care about.
That said, most people who tell you they love what they do have found a way to craft a career by knitting together something that matters to them with some other talent or skill—and by thinking creatively. Fred Mandell, for example, was nearing the close of a long corporate career at American Express. In his mid-fifties, he had an itch to work with his hands and do something creative. He took a sculpture workshop and quickly discovered that he had a talent. When he left his job a few years later, he wanted to make time for his art but he needed to make a living. Unexpectedly, sculpture led Mandell to the work that would support him. As he studied the great art masters, it occurred to him that they had a lot they could teach us about leadership and creativity. That led to a book, Becoming a Life Change Artist, and a blossoming consulting practice where he takes his perspective on creativity to the corporate audiences he understands so well.
As for the ukulele playing, don’t give up on that idea either. Robert Frazier, a veteran jazz musician, has created an encore that combines his lifelong passions of playing music, working with children, and public service. After a yearlong fellowship with Musician Corps, which places musicians in high-needs public schools, Frazier began leading music programs in various schools in the San Francisco Bay area.
What about age discrimination? And don’t say it doesn’t exist.
Age discrimination is real. Many employers just don’t consider older people for some roles. Plus, many employers are concerned that older employees won’t want to learn new things or will have outdated technology skills. You can counter those expectations by making sure that your skills are up to snuff, especially when it comes to technology. Having a great LinkedIn profile is one easy way to show you understand how today’s job market works. You can try to emphasize parts of your background that might shake employers out of their stereotypes. But if an employer doesn’t value your experience, the organization might not be an ideal fit even if you are able to change a few minds. Better to focus on places where you see evidence that older, experienced people are already part of the team. It would also be a good idea to tailor your résumé to show your strengths as an adviser and mentor. And certainly talk about mentoring in interviews, explaining how gratifying it is to pass on your experience and to learn from others. (In Chapter 7, we’ll focus specifically on how to address the age issue head-on.)
Can I be in an encore career while staying in the same job?
It’s common for people to discover ways to contribute to the social good in the jobs they’ve had all along—or because of expertise they’ve acquired while working in one area for a long time. If you already work in the social sector and want to shake things up, you could explore creating a role where you mentor young people just joining your organization or stretch yourself in some other, new way.
Consider Liza Donnelly. A cartoonist at The New Yorker for thirty years, Donnelly long ago mastered the art of creating great cartoons, and she loves doing it. But in recent years she has been using her talents and platform as a seasoned cartoonist to get involved in public conversations about politics, women’s advancement, world peace, and other issues that matter to her. She has given talks at TED and the United Nations that now circulate widely on YouTube.
John Reynolds is in an encore that grew directly out of his life’s work in the National Park Service. Reynolds and several other recently retired managers from the U.S. Park Service started Global Parks, an initiative that offers mentorship to current park service employees and works on conservation partnerships with other countries.
In the current economy, is it really possible to find a paying encore career?
The job market is tight, no question, but it’s no harder to find work in the nonprofit or public sector than it is in the private sector. In fact, the nonprofit sector has added jobs at a rate of 2.1 percent over the past decade, while for-profit jobs have decreased by an annual average of 0.6 percent in the same period.
After a period of extreme cutbacks in 2008 and 2009, there are several signs that the nonprofit sector will be hiring in the coming years. A 2011 Idealist.org survey of 3,000 nonprofits described the sector as “cautiously optimistic,” and that’s a good way for you to feel as well.
Saving the world is intimidating. How much can I really do on my own?
No one person is going to save the world, so let’s get away from that idea right now. Instead focus on work that allows you to do something you know will matter, even if it’s just to a small group of people. Teachers, social workers, health care professionals, and social entrepreneurs may not enjoy every day of their working lives, but they often report high levels of satisfaction from their work because they believe they are contributing to the greater good in some way. Barb Quaintance, who heads up AARP volunteering and civic engagement programs, told me that her mantra is: “We don’t all need to be amazing to make a difference because the cumulative effect of a lot of us doing what we can adds up.” That’s certainly a good way to relieve the pressure.
Can I find my encore while working in a for-profit company in the private sector?
Yes. Let’s say you work for a big oil company, and you create a way to supply low-income families with cheaper heat in the winter months. That would make a difference for a lot of people. You might also work in a for-profit company developing a new vaccine or a for-profit nursing home that provides quality care. You may be a teacher at a for-profit university, a writer at a for-profit textbook company, or a nurse at a for-profit hospital. There’s no magic in the nonprofit sector. There are many ways to contribute to the greater good while working in a business setting.
I’d love to focus on my own next steps, but I can’t figure out how to manage the caregiving responsibilities that now fill my life.
It’s a difficult reality: The encore years often coincide with an escalation in caregiving responsibilities and health problems. These issues naturally limit the time you can put toward a significant new project. It’s also possible that you need to hold on to a flexible work arrangement or great health benefits, and therefore can’t rush into a change right away.
Suzanne Mintz, the founder of the National Family Caregivers Association, offers this advice: “Recognize that if you’re playing the role of primary caregiver, you already have a full-time job.” So be easy on yourself and be okay with taking it slow.
Spend some time reading and thinking about what you’ll do when you’re able to make a bigger move. You might also find that you can take some small steps toward an encore that will start the ball rolling at a speed that you can handle.
I’m interested in reinventing, but I’m not really focused on the social good. Mostly, I want to make a living and do something that matters to me.
You’re not alone. Lots of people reach their encore years and feel that it’s time—finally—to have a chance to do what they want to do, not what anyone else wants them to do. That’s why the media is filled with stories of people reinventing and having second acts as interior designers, innkeepers, and vintners. This book doesn’t focus on those kinds of careers, but it does provide a blueprint for reinventing that will be useful to anyone in midlife, regardless of career goals.
You’ll notice that all the examples and advice are about finding both personal meaning and social impact. As it happens, a large percentage of work with social impact is in high-growth fields and high-need fields like education, health care, and services for the aging. So if your interests lie in those areas, you’ll find the book especially helpful.
I’ve never been one of those people who finds meaning through my work. I’ve always looked at the stuff I do outside of work as the stuff that really matters.
Some people like having big boundaries between what they do for work and what they do for pleasure. Others find it natural to blend and blur, spending their free time doing things that look a lot like work to others. It’s possible you’ll find your encore outside of what you think of as your job. But it’s also possible that you might hit a point where you’d like to do something for your work that feels more connected to the things that matter deeply to you.
I like the idea of an encore career, but the words don’t feel right.
Good words that describe work in the second half of life are hard to come by. If the words “encore career” are useful to you, then embrace them. If you’d prefer to talk about your work in other terms, feel free.