After my friend Anne left a successful career on Wall Street, she spent several years writing fiction. She completed two novels, then realized that the issues and problems in the real world had become more compelling than the stories she was making up.
"What was I doing writing fiction when I could be out there with real people, doing something meaningful?” she told me. “Cliché or not, I wanted to use my business skills and international experience to make an impact on the world.”
As it turns out, she is in good company, according to a study released today by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank on boomers, work and aging. The 2008 Encore Career survey asked 3,500 Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 about their current and future work plans and preferences.
The results indicate that a majority of people in that age group want to use their skills and experience to help others. In fact, the report estimates that between 5 and 8 million Americans are already involved in what Marc Freedman, CEO of Civic Ventures, calls an “encore career”—meaningful work that combines earning an income with making a contribution to society. “I think of it as practical idealism,” he says.
What the Study Means
The results of the study may be early evidence of a trend. “For us, the major finding was the numbers,” says Freedman. “This is not just an abstract ideal. Millions of people are already acting on this impulse.”
People like Ed Speedling, who became an advocate for the homeless after a career as a health care executive, or Beverly Ryder, who brought her years of corporate experience to a new role in public education.
Freedman credits these “pioneers” with “blazing the path” for those behind them. And considering that there are 78 million baby boomers, that’s a lot of people to play “follow the leader.” According to the study, nearly half of those not already in encore careers have a strong desire to move into such jobs.
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