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New Book: Are You Ready For Your Encore Career?


Encore Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life by Marc Freedman

Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life (Public Affairs 2007) charts the changing landscape of retirement and challenges baby boomers to build a better world through an encore career.

The author, Marc Freedman, is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a non-profit think tank in the United States. The author of Prime Time, Freedman spearheaded the creation of The Purpose Prize, awarded annually to Americans over 60 who make significant contributions to quality of life in the community.

Freedman outlines key points in Encore:

The golden years: In the early decades of the 20th century, a set of powerful economic and social forces combined to create the postwar golden years model of retirement. Retirement became a coveted life phase, inspiring dreams of freedom and leisure. Millions dropped out of the labour market as soon as they could. In the United States in 1950, nearly half the men over 65 remained in the workforce. By 2000, less than 18 per cent were still working.

Shifting visions: Today, new forces are shaping society. The dramatic extension of life and health late in the last century and today has forced a rethink of the middle years and late years.

American baby boomers are deferring retirement. In fact, four out of five consistently tell researchers they expect to keep working into their golden years. And among those who plan to keep working, nearly two out of three expect to change fields, according to a study by Merrill Lynch.

Some workers need the money. After all, few individuals can finance retirements ranging over several decades. Besides, large numbers of workers were forced out of the labour force in recent years, through job loss.

There’s another reason. This powerful group – 77 million strong – wants work that makes a difference in the world. Of those aged 50 to 59, nearly 60 per cent say they are interested in reordering priorities to put social impact front and centre, according to a New Face of Work study. In addition, boomers rank teaching, nursing and childcare in the top 10 most popular post-retirement occupations, according to a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons.

Another factor influencing workers is desire for "purposeful relationships." Respondents show a preference for relationships built around work and collective accomplishments to the purely social connections common in retirement, according to a New Face of Work study.

Encore career

Freedman describes an "encore" career that entails a significant body of work, extending over 15 or 20 years. The encore career takes place in the second half of life, following a first or primary career. Ideally, it involves some type of pay or benefits. Finally, the encore career is fired by a search for meaning and a desire to contribute to the common good.

Take Jacqueline Khan, for example. Khan was in her 50s when she retired from her job as truant officer at the Detroit Board of Education. By then, she had already started working on her nursing degree. After graduation, she landed a position in the cardiac intensive care unit at the Level One Trauma Hospital in Detroit. She thrives on the drama and excitement of the job and the opportunity to keep her mind sharp. Now 64, she has no plans to retire.

"I keep my eye on those Doctors Without Borders," says Khan. "I think I have the physical stamina to do it. I wouldn’t mind going to some of these different countries and having an entirely different lifestyle."

According to Freedman the encore career offers people like Khan: "continued income, purposeful connections, and the promise of purpose and significance in the second half of life."

New polices for new times

But the encore phenomenon can’t be left to individuals like Khan; the author argues that society must do its part.

Freedman calls for a new approach to public policy for this stage of life. In the final chapter of the book, he offers concrete suggestions. These include removing disincentives for working, such as reduced Social Security, and introducing a national sabbatical – a "gap year" – for midlife individuals completing primary careers and beginning to plan the next chapter.

Thinking about your own encore?

Here are some questions from the author to get you started:

How would you like to spend the next five or 10 or 20 years?
What community, national or global problems concern you the most?
How much income do you need to earn?
Do you want to remain in your present field or explore something new?
Do you want to work for an existing organization or start your own?
Are you willing to update, perhaps go back to school?

Don’t be in a hurry to make a decision. Check around. Talk to others. Try out several options.