Encore Careers: Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life

There are number of encore career pathways available to you as you explore what's next after “retiring” from your current career. One of the pathways that can be truly exciting is civic engagement.

I'm not talking about traditional volunteerism. I'm talking about what Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, describes as work that combines 1) making a social impact, 2) finding personal meaning and, 3) earning continued income in the second half of life. It's work that matters. It's social entrepreneuring. It might surprise you to learn that that the 55-64 age group is the most active in creating new ventures; people ages 20-34 are the least entrepreneurial.

What kind of a social innovator might you be if you mixed your creativity, experience and passion with a desire to do something bigger than yourself?

For Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman, life as they'd known it irreversibly changed when their youngest son was killed on 9/11. To honor his life, Elizabeth and Stephen started the Peter C. Alderman Foundation to treat the one billion victims of trauma and terrorism around the world by creating homegrown mental health systems where violence (rape, war, kidnapping) has laid waste to communities. Elizabeth (a special education teacher) and Stephen (a doctor) have channeled their grief into a beautiful legacy for their son.

Judith Broder was so moved by a play she saw depicting the trauma that soldiers experience in war, she created The Soldiers Project. As a psychiatrist, Broder knew that, without help, some soldiers would never get past what they had seen and done, and how it affected not just their lives, but the lives of their loved ones, too. Through The Soldiers Project, Judith recruits mental health professionals who provide free, confidential, unlimited therapy to service members and their families.

Psychologist Marcy Adelman knew first-hand that many LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) seniors looking for housing and care late in life face discrimination and loneliness. She set out to provide affordable, LGBT-friendly housing and training for service providers to better support LGBT elderly. The success of her organization, Openhouse, is reflected in the dramatic improvement of mainstream services available to LGBT seniors in the San Francisco Bay area.

These four people have created extraordinary encore careers for themselves, and they epitomize the spirit of social entrepreneurship. Each has found the place where people are falling through the cracks in their communities (and around the world), and they've built new models for — and creative new ways of — serving.

Elizabeth, Stephen, Judith and Marcy are four of the 2009 winners of The Purpose Prize, a program of the Encore Careers campaign which aims to engage millions of baby boomers in encore careers to produce “a windfall of human talent to solve society's greatest problems, from education to the environment, health care to homelessness”. For more information and inspiration go to www.encore.org.

Teaching as an Encore Career

I love film. I especially love films that uplift and inspire. When they're based on a true story about a teacher who's making a difference in students' lives, I'm in heaven. I took a trip there recently when I had the privilege of seeing the outstanding documentary, Pressure Cooker.

Pressure Cooker is a fascinating journey to Frankford High School in a working class neighborhood of Philadelphia, where teacher Wilma Stephenson teaches culinary arts. This culinary arts class does not remotely resemble the home economics classes of my childhood, nor do Mrs. Stephenson's blunt, one-of-a-kind, in-your-face, boot camp-style teaching methods remind me of the gentle teachers who taught me how to make gelatin salads and cinnamon toast. But, boy, does Mrs. Stephenson get results.

The film follows the stories of three students who thrive over two semesters under Mrs. Stephenson's unorthodox tutelage, and the grand finale is the awards ceremony where scholarships to the most prestigious culinary schools in the nation are handed out. Not every student has the wherewithal to survive in Mrs. Stephenson's classroom, but those who do find themselves championed by an
extraordinary woman whose purpose, passion and commitment inspires them to exceed all expectations. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll be inspired by the determination — sometimes at amazing odds — that fuels these amazing kids forward. You'll have to see the film to see how they fare!

Granted, Wilma Stephenson has been teaching for 38 years, so you could argue that it might be time she begins looking for her own encore career. But, you'd be missing the point.

According to a MetLife Survey, 40% of college-educated adults say they would consider teaching in the future. Are you one of them?

Like the former pastry chef who teaches children to cook in a fun, party setting, while imparting real life skills. Or the retired IBM executive who's making biology (his first love) interesting and fun for his middle school students. Consider which of your gifts you might bring to the classroom, how you could inspire young minds, and if the idea of teaching inspires you.

If you're thinking this might be the perfect path for you, but you're not sure and you'd like to take it for a test drive, check out Experience Corps. Experience Corps is a wonderful organization with mentoring and tutoring programs in schools around the country. You could provide literacy training for or mentor a young person at risk while you're determining if teaching is for you.

5 Ways to Volunteer and Make a Difference

One of the best ways to find a purpose and create meaning in our encore lives is to make a difference in someone else's life. It helps redirect our focus away from ourselves, and can provide a wonderful sense of fulfillment. If you're looking for a volunteer opportunity as a part of your encore career, here are 5 really great organizations to explore:

1. ExperienceCorp.org: Experience Corps is an award-winning national program that engages people over 55 in meeting their communities' greatest challenges. Two thousand members of Experience Corps tutor and mentor in 23 cities across the country, providing literacy coaching, homework help, consistent role models and committed, caring attention.

Independent research has shown that Experience Corps boosts student academic performance, helps schools and youth-serving organizations become more successful, and enhances the well-being of older adults in the process. It's a win-win-win for everyone!

2. SeniorCorps.gov: Senior Corps currently links more than 500,000 Americans to service opportunities by becoming mentors, coaches or companions to people in need or contributing their job skills and expertise to community projects and organizations.

Don't let the “senior” word put you off, because Senior Corps does an excellent job of connecting people 55+ with the people and organizations that need them most, and offers different ways to get involved. Check out:

3. SeniorCorps.org's RSVP Program: RSVP is NOT your father's “Retired Senior Volunteer Program.” This new and improved version connects volunteers with service opportunities in their communities that match their skills, talents, interests and availability.

From building houses to immunizing children, from enhancing the capacity of non-profit organizations to improving and protecting the environment, RSVP volunteers put their unique talents to work to make a difference.

4. SeniorCorps.org's Foster Grandparents Program: Foster Grandparents program connects volunteers age 60 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs. Volunteers mentor, support, and help some of the most vulnerable children in the United States.

Aggie Bennett and Louise Casey served as Foster Grandparents on the pediatric ward of Maine Medical Center for over a decade, and you can read about their extraordinary experience in Marc Freedman's Prime Time: How Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement & Transform America.

5. VolunteerMatch.org: Volunteer Match is a terrific site for finding the perfect volunteer opportunity in your community — both ongoing and project based. Not to worry if you live in a more rural area like me. I found three Web pages filled with great volunteer openings!

If you know of an inspirational site not listed here, please let me know.

Meanwhile, may your journey discovering your ideal encore career be joyful, and may you find the perfect fit that ignites your passion, and provides purpose and pizzazz in your life!

Encore Careers: How to Be Empowered by Career Change

You might not like change, but like it or not, everything changes all the time. There's the kind of change you choose, like retiring from your current work life to pursue the encore career of your dreams. There's also the kind that's thrust upon you that you would never choose for yourself, like being downsized from work that you love.

What's important, in either case, is how you make the journey from where you were to where you choose to be. You can dig in your heels and resist change, or open to the opportunities that change offers. You can look frantically to others for what to do next, or you can trust your own inner knowing. You can throw yourself a pity party, or alter your attitude.

Choose wisely and you'll discover you have the courage to not only survive, but to actually thrive as you move through your transition.

Jean Shula is an expert on navigating change. She left teaching behind when her youngest child started school, getting a Master's degree and becoming a therapist — her choice. Getting a divorce just as her three kids were emptying the nest was not her choice. It was on a year-long, post-divorce trip around the US in a camper by herself (her choice) that the idea of writing for a living first sparked.

Once back at home, Jean worked as a therapist for three years before retiring — again, her choice. A year in Austria and a second Master's degree followed, and finally she jumped into writing full-time, an encore career that she chose whole-heartedly.

In the middle of writing her first book, The Coming of Aging: Learning to Live from the Inside Out, Jean was diagnosed with breast cancer. Derailed? Definitely! But here's the thing. Jean didn't waste time battling against the fact of her disease, or blaming or feeling sorry for herself. She took care of business.

One surgery turned into three. Then there was the post-surgery protocol. Then the months of getting her energy and stamina back. Sure, Jean researched her options and got all the information she needed to make a well-informed choice about how to proceed. But, she trusted her instincts and made good decisions for herself.

While the book was on hold, she never lost her excitement about the project or her hope for the future. She saw this derailment as an opportunity to take better care of herself physically, and as a wake-up call to stay focused on the things in life that are most important to her.

Jean uses change to fuel her forward in life. Today, five years after her diagnosis, The Coming of Aging is published, her second book is being shopped to publishers, and a third book is in the works. This dream encore writing career also includes traveling around the country speaking and leading workshops and retreats, and Jean's having the time of her life.

Once you decide to embrace change rather than resisting it, your encore life and encore career choices become much clearer to you.

Encore Careers: Coping Strategies When Life Throws You a Curveball

Life can throw us a curveball when we least expect it, never more so than in your encore life or encore career.

Sue is single, and was inspired by Jean Shula's journey in The Coming of Aging. Remember how after Jean's divorce, she bought a camper and embarked on a year-long adventure traveling around the country? Well, Jean's story sparked something deep inside Sue, and she decided that when she retires next year, she's giving herself the gift of a year before creating an encore career and going on her own great adventure.

Sue started researching recreational vehicles, rented one, and drove to a women's RV weekend a few hours from her home. She had such a good time, she couldn't wait to get home and put the wheels in motion for the transition to her new life.

But, then the curveball — a heart attack. It was mild, but a set-back just the same. Sue, though, didn't see it as a set-back; she saw it as a wake-up call. First, to take better care of herself; second, to make sure that she follows her heart to the adventure she envisions. There's not a doubt in my mind — or Sue's — that this dream will become a reality.

Mary and her husband, Joe, had their ideal retirement plan in place, were five years away from financial readiness, and were eagerly counting the days until they could take off into this new dream life. Then, Joe died unexpectedly. Devastated to lose her life partner in her 50s, it took Mary two years to go through her grieving process, and start to regain her equilibrium.

While Mary loved her work as a nurse, she was burned out and ready for a change. Without Joe's income feeding their nest egg, the “ideal” retirement they'd planned was no longer a reality. It was clear to Mary that she needed to leave her current career and move into a new career that would give her the freedom she craved, while earning a good income.

It would have been easy for Mary to feel cheated that she wasn't going to have the life she'd planned with Joe. That would have kept her stuck and angry, and that's NOT the kind of life she wanted for herself. So, Mary's currently exploring ways to take her wealth of nursing knowledge and apply it in new and exciting ways. She's considering writing and speaking, becoming a medical advocate, and consulting.

Don't let the curve balls in your life derail your encore career. Get back on the horse, set you goals, and persevere until you reach them!