What will you do for an Encore?

“I won’t retire, but I might retread.” – Neil Young

Just as the baby boom generation is entering retirement age, Americans are living much longer lives. For many, the idea of no longer working and retiring from a career simply does not make sense—philosophically or monetarily.

Back when a typical life span reached only into the early 70s, it made sense to stop working at 65 and take time to relax, travel, play golf or Bridge, spend time with the grandkids, and retire from the stress of a long career.

But with lifespans for many expected to reach into the early 90s, many are reconsidering how they will spend these golden years. Part of this decision is necessitated by the need to earn more money in order to pay for these additional years, but another part is the opportunity to perhaps change careers and pursue something beyond what you did for the bulk of your life.

It’s been reported that we often discover our true passion between the ages of 8 and 12, and then many of us try to rediscover what these passions are in career counseling when we find dissatisfaction in our careers. That’s because we chose a career that made economic sense rather than fed our soul.

So what if during these senior years, when the economic need for raising a family, sending the kids to college and building a retirement nest egg no longer outweigh what we are passionate about? What if we decided to pursue doing what we love, giving back, or working for social good rather than individual goods?

In Marc Freedman’s The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, he says we need to accept the decades opening up between midlife and old age for what they really are: a new stage of life, an encore phase. His organization encore.org wants to help make it easier for millions of people to pursue second acts for the greater good, and provide information so people can transition to jobs in the nonprofit world and the public sector.

“Millions are already in the midst of inventing a new stage of life and work—the encore years—between the end of midlife and anything resembling old-fashioned retirement,” writes Freedman. “We’re envisioning this chapter as a time when we make some of our most important contributions, for ourselves, for our world, for the well-being of future generations.”

A philanthropic organization called Social Venture Partners is built around the venture capital model to provide non-profit organizations with both funding and expertise. In addition to strengthening non-profits, SVP connects and engages individuals to provide greater philanthropic impact and collaborative solutions. Their partners are in various stages of their careers and life, but all are seeking to make a difference in their lives.

Founded in Seattle 15 years ago, SVP has more than 2,000 professionals in 29 cities around the world working to make the world a better place.

Sometimes staying in your chosen career a little longer can also be satisfying, but this may require a different role. Perhaps moving into more of a mentoring or consulting position will enable you to extend your working years. Maybe there could be more flexibility with regard to when and where you do the work. Or maybe it means moving to part-time, so you can pursue other interests and yet still keep involved in the work.

Encore.org’s Freedman has proposed some pretty radical ideas such as enabling those in midlife to quit their jobs and take a year of social security payments in order to go back to school or begin a new and possibly lower paying, but more satisfying, career. You would then delay the time when you begin taking social security payments, and thereby reduce the government’s overall cost.

The idea is to begin thinking about what you’ll want to do in these later years long before you reach them. Retirement planning should take into account that not working at all may no longer be an option or even desirable to you.

Rather than a firm end point to the work life, you may want to consider a transition time when you are free to follow what feeds your soul and eases you into non-working retirement. Your encore years could very well be the crowning achievement to your life.

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About Mark Craemer
Craemer Consulting specializes in workplace communication, organization development and leadership coaching.

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