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There are four major work+life fit transitions that spark a fundamental rethinking of the way work fits into the rest of life: parenthood, illness, elder care, and retirement.  Historically, our response to each of these reset points has been very black and white:  I either work full-time, as I am now, or I don't work at all. But that’s changing in the new work+life flex normal, especially as it relates to traditional "retirement."  One of the groups creating a modern vision of a purpose-driven retirement is Civic Ventures with their Encore Careers, or "paid jobs that offer meaning and the chance to make a social impact."  logo

Today, the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures announced the 2009 Encore Opportunity Awards, honoring eight nonprofit and public sector organizations that helped workers over 50 "find, thrive in Encore Careers."  As Civic Ventures CEO, Marc Freedman, explained in a recent BusinessWeek column "The Case Against Retirement,"

"The road used to be much easier. For 50 years, the average fifty-something American was headed inexorably toward a clear-cut career and life transition: the transition to a leisure-based retirement.

The path was well-marked, with familiar rites like the retirement party and the gold watch. Employers offered enticements for early retirement, starting with pensions and health care. Policies like Social Security and Medicare were true safety nets.

Then the mad men of marketing went to work. On TV and in magazines, insurance firms trumpeted a shimmering vision of the good life. Whole communities with names like Leisure World were set up to cater to a full-throttled golden years’ lifestyle, filled with golf and shuffleboard.

Today an unprecedented number of Americans are coursing through their 50s, bound for a dramatically different destination. They’re headed not to the golf course but to a new stage of life that, for most, includes work…"

The 2009 Encore Opportunity Award winners tapped into this experienced, wise, passionate demographic to "protect public safety, build low-income housing, teach job skills, preserve the environment, even save dying Native American languages."  Inspiring examples include (for more go to

Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals (Minneapolis)—This nonprofit created a youth development program that pays "elders"– Native Americans over 50 who know the Dakota or Ojibwe languages – to work with children ages 16 months to 5 years old. The language immersion experience aims to pass along native languages and a sense of culture.

Civitan Foundation Inc. (Phoenix)—This organization designed its Caring Connections program to engage encore workers as direct caregivers for its programs serving people with disabilities of all ages. In its first eight months, the project trained 50 older Americans and placed 20 in caregiver roles with clients.

Executive Service Corps of Chicago (Chicago)—To fill the leadership transition challenges experienced by many nonprofits, the Executive Service Corps recruits, trains and places retired nonprofit executives in interim director positions in Chicago-area nonprofits.

Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department (Lawrenceville, Ga.)—This public safety agency recruits and employs encore workers to fill jobs at all levels. One-fourth of the department’s civilian and sworn work force is over 50, coming from previous careers in government, retail and business.

Imagine what the world would be like if instead of planning for "retirement," we all planned for our encore career?  With the leadership of organizations like Civic Ventures, new, more flexible visions of work+life fit in our later years will become the norm.  Do you have examples of retirement redefined? 

As Marc Freedman pointed out in his BW article, there are real structural changes that need to occur before encore careers can thrive.  What other shifts have to be made personally, organizationally and in public policy? 

P.S. I want to give a big shout out to one of my favorite career writers and people, Marci Alboher, who officially joined Civic Ventures as a Senior Fellow.  She adds her sharp intellect, clear voice and wise insight to this important endeavor, and we are all the better for it. 

P.P.S. My grandparents actually lived at Leisure World in Silver Spring, MD.  Yes, there is a huge globe at the entrance—too funny!