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The Age of the Encore Career Arrives (and Not a Moment Too Soon)

The goal of Marc Freedman is to create a language, mindset, and cultural infrastructure around a new stage of life–the Encore Career. It’s that period after your main income-producing career ends but before complete retirement begins. We all know it’s there, but aren’t quite sure what to call it. Until now.

Frequent visitors to this blog know that I’m a major fan of
the non-profit, Civic Ventures and its founder Marc Freedman. The goal of their work is to create a
language, mindset, and cultural infrastructure around a new stage of life–the
Encore Career. It’s that period after
your main income-producing career ends but before complete retirement begins. We all know it’s there, but aren’t quite sure
what to call it. Until now.

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With the publication of his new book, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (Public
Affairs)
, Marc Freedman not only wants to name this new phase, but to align
public policy, communities, education, employers, and individuals for success. I recently had a chance to talk to Marc
Freedman about his book and the effort to make the “encore career” an official stop
in a work+life fit journey.

Cali: Let’s start
with the basics. What is an Encore
Career?

Marc: Encore careers
are a form of practical idealism. In the
past, when you hit 50 or 60 you thought about how you might volunteer. But now
with people working longer, we see a hybrid need for income, renewal, and
finding meaning through work.

Cali: What are three
things you hope that everyone will do or feel after reading
your book?

Marc: I would like
people to:

  1. Realize that a new stage of life is emerging
    between mid-life and retirement and old age.
  2. Understand that the population flowing into this
    period is an undiscovered source of talent for society versus the gloomy vision
    of walkers outnumbering stroller. People
    in this new phase have the time and energy to use all of their experience, and
    we all benefit.
  3. I hope that in creating this new stage these
    encore career individuals can get the country back on track, and create a sense
    a future mindedness. We can return our
    focus to leaving the world better off for future generations. In envision a wave of bumper stickers that say,
    “I’m living my legacy.”

Cali: I attended the
Purpose Prize conference this year (an event that recognizes individuals with
encore careers who are making a difference in their communities). I was struck by the unbelievable vitality and
creativity gathered in one room. I
couldn’t help but wonder how many of the world’s problems would be solved if
all of this “encore career” potential was harnessed and released. What do you hope
this book accomplishes
toward achieving that goal?

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Marc: The Purpose Prize a powerful reminder that we need to
dispense with the conventional wisdom that entrepreneurship is only for young
people. There is a second wave of innovation and creativity.

We’ve helped to unearth a group of people doing significant,
creative work beyond the bounds of traditional limitations. Undiscovered talent is out there. The shame is that we systemically write off a
very important creative class in society.
For every Purpose Prize winner who managed to forge ahead, many more
went off to sideline because they believed what society told them that their
proper role is to get out of the action, and that your best work is behind
you. All of the genius we’ve lost
because of that arbitrary decision … again, it’s a shame.

In realm of entrepreneurship and innovation, I hope people
read the encore career stories of Purpose Prize winners and realize they aren’t
exceptions. You don’t have to be Jimmy
Carter and Bill Gates to have an encore career.
The Purpose Prize winners have lived very ordinary lives with as much
failure and triumph as anyone. I find
that enormously optimistic–the best is yet to come especially for people with a
style of creativity and innovation based in trial and error. People at this stage of life have time to
accumulate those strands of experience and see where the patterns lead them in
their next phase.

We’ve gone too far with the myth of reinvention, or the
American myth that we must constantly re-create our lives. The happiest people are still who they’ve
always been just with more of a confluence, integration of all the parts of
their lives. Pulling together skills,
insights they’d acquired over time. They’ve
seen enough of life to appreciate and bring all of those elements together as a
new amalgam. It’s more of a coming
together than a reinvention. It’s not
about running a B&B in wine country with no prior experience.

Cali: I love how you
equate the recognition of the “encore career” with the creation of the life
phase called “adolescence” 100 years ago that we take as a given today. What would a world look like where an “encore
career” is an accepted and expected period in terms of public policy,
education, community, employers and individuals?

Marc: These new stages grow out of a problem that turns a
negative into a blessing. The same
change is lining up now with an aging yet still vital population.

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Public Policy

With regard to public policy, we’ve traditionally had a deal
that encourages people to leave the contributing phase of their lives. Many people will still need to leave workforce
in their 50/60s because of physical limitations, but many will also need a
transition to the next period of contribution versus a conclusion. They need an opportunity to retool and move
in new direction. Currently, public policy
is meager to support making those shifts.
Like the GI Bill, I’d like to see an Encore Bill that brought together
education, internships, and savings vehicles to navigate next chapter. There
are piecemeal policies already out there, so it’s not a matter of starting from
scratch. If we brought all of the pieces
together, it could help millions of people.

Education

Later in life education has been a source of significant innovation
over last few decades. An example of
life long learning would be Elder Hostel.
At one point, people over 60 who wanted to learn were seen as odd balls.
Not so anymore. I think we’ve done a great job making
education acceptable for people at the beginning of their lives and then once
they retire. Now we need open up education
for people in their 50s and 60s that would help them get new skills, make new
connections and launch a new contributing phase of life. Examples are everywhere, such as the number
of people going back to divinity school, although at great expense.

We are starting to see encore career educational options
pioneered at community colleges and even Harvard Business School. Alumni
associations are stepping in with webinars to retool. A foment is underway that’s revealing a new
type of education. In the future, people
will go to school at the start of their career, but then reallocate some of
that time and those resources to when they are 55 years old.

A great example of community-based efforts to support encore
careers are the Transition Networks that are forming across the country mostly
by the women who were the leaders in the women’s movement. These women recognize that people are being
shunted into roles that don’t fit their aspiration. They remember the benefit
of being able to turn to others to help navigate change. These networks have been spreading like
wildfire from professionals to blue collar workers.

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I recently went from speaking at a Transition Network to meeting
with a group from the Exeter Alumni Association. The Transition Network was a group of women
and the Exeter meeting was a group of men, but they were talking about the same
thing. They had the same spirit, were
the same age, just a different gender.

There are huge opportunities to support encore careers are
through Alumni associations. I can’t
keep track of how many reunion requests we are getting from under grad, and law
schools for 30th and 35th year reunions. At that milestone, alumni are looking back
and remembering what they used to value and that sense of community when they
were in school. They are turning to each
other to hear what people are encountering and dreaming about for the next
phase. A lot of it happening from more elite schools, but it’s hard to imagine
that it won’t spread.

Employers

With employers, I think there’s a growing understanding that
people will not spend their entire career at the same company. We’ve done work
with HP helping people in their late 40 and early 50s get encore fellowships
that focus on the environment and education.
And IBM has been a real leader in the transition to teaching and
government. It helps the company not
only extend its philanthropy but establish itself as great place to work.

Another proposal is to create a stealth gap year for when
you can’t afford to lose your job but you want to explore something
different. It allows for a period of exploration
at a reasonable financial cost.

Individuals

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For individuals, encore careers are a natural outcome of becoming
clearer about how your priorities are shifting.
What we value in our teens is different from when we are in our 60s. As people become more attune to the finite nature
of life, their priorities change. We are
more alert to mortality, which affects decision-making, but at the same time we
recognize our remaining longevity and the urgency of how quickly time
goes. In other words, there’s urgency but
also the recognition that you have a good 20/25 years to build a body of work that
you would be proud of.

Changing the way people plan their retirement is going to be
driven by the reality of how to fund a 30-year retirement with no income. In some cases, people will need to retire
early because of the physical nature of the work they did. But there will be a shift from planning for a
vacation that’s decades long to investing in the next phase and doing a better job
of transitioning to an encore career.

Cali: We both agree
on the importance of language to influence how we think about an issue. For example, you talk about “jettisoning
working age population.” In your
opinion, how else does our language and thinking need to change?

Marc: There are big distinctions between old age, retirement
and an encore career. The book is a plea to accept this new phase on its own
terms, as a stand alone destination. 60
is the new 60, not the new 40. The segment of population in this period dwarfs
the number of people who are truly old age.
And, it’s not just about the Boomers.
In fact, Gen X and Gen Y will be the first groups to truly embrace and
benefit from the acceptance of encore career.
To change, we need to not only think differently but talk differently in
an affirmative language that does away with young versus old, or working
retirement which is too half in, half out.
We need language that defines encore careers as more than a bridge. It’s a destination, which I think more people
will clamor to get to as early as possible.

Cali: Recently, on
the cover of the NY Times
was an article that tells the story of a 61-year-old cabinetmaker
in Florida who is getting ready to lose his unemployment benefits. He seemed resigned and “out of hope.” I couldn’t help but think of how an encore
career might harness his talent to rebuild schools, community centers etc. In the perfect world of encore careers, how
might his situation look different?

Marc: That story really underscores the precarious situation
many are confronted with today. There
are two components coming together–an awful economic period, and we are transitioning
to a new map of the way life progresses.
People are being thrown into this new world without the help to figure
out how to move in a new direction. They
are being put in an untenable position so it’s not surprising that they are
feeling hopeless. Until we develop the new
societal supports for making encore career transitions, people will be left in
this do-it-yourself vice that can seem overwhelming unless they are very
wealthy and have a cushion.

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When you think about it, over the past decades, we created a
powerful agreement around shorter working lives that includes government
programs, retirement communities, pensions, and AARP advocacy. This new encore career model is being driven
by demographics, economics, and then you throw in terrible economy and we are
being forced to look at this phase of work and life differently.

Cali: Yes, and we
will with your terrific new book that is a must read. I will proudly display my “I am living my legacy” sticker on my
bumper! Thank you, Marc. Continued success with your campaign to make
encore careers a new part of our work+life fit journey.

What do you think? Now that this new “encore career” phase has a name, how does it change the way you think about your work+life fit journey?