Boomers and older Americans are giving retirement a major makeover: The old stereotype of the 65-year-old trotting off to a sun-filled life of leisure is quickly becoming a thing of the past. A new life stage is emerging — one that takes place between leaving a career in one field and flat-out retiring.
Think of it as an "encore career."
For some people, this involves paid, part-time work related to a social mission, often in the nonprofit or public sector. For others, it might be volunteer work, another full-time job, a new business or even a sharper focus on a hobby or recreational pursuit. One thing an encore is not — menial.
"People are living longer, and we're adding more productive years to our lives," says Richard J. Leider, one of the pioneers of Life Reimagined, an AARP program that helps people navigate this new life stage. "They're eager to use this time to discover new possibilities and make new life choices."
The idea of an encore career dates to 1997, when a San Francisco-based nonprofit called Civic Ventures (since renamed Encore.org) introduced the notion, but recently the concept has taken off.
An estimated 9 million Americans ages 44 to 70 are engaged in second careers, and 31 million more are interested in pursuing one. A survey from the MetLife Foundation and Encore.org shows that within the next 10 years, 25 percent of boomers hope to start a business or nonprofit; and half of these people want to make a difference in the world while earning money.
Many older adults can't afford to stop working. They may not have traditional pensions, or perhaps the recession pummeled their investments. But even if they don't get paid, "older adults want to remain connected, relevant, useful and engaged. There's this collective feeling of 'we're not done yet,' " says Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook.
To get started, speak with people in your target field, and volunteer for a place you admire before you make the leap. "Experimenting in your 50s prepares you psychologically for a new chapter rather than being blindsided if your career ends suddenly or you're too consumed to think about it," says Encore.org founder Marc Freedman.
Support for Encore Careers
A growing number of organizations are working to leverage the talents of the 50-plus population:
Encore Fellowship programs can now be found in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Last year, for example, Intel began underwriting a $25,000 stipend for its soon-to-retire employees who wanted to transition into social service.
Online Community: Are you looking for a part-time job? Discuss with Others
Some cities are gaining encore-friendly reputations. San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., Minneapolis and Boston have partnered with local businesses and organizations to explore how to employ boomers.
Universities and community colleges are providing training and retraining for paid and volunteer work. Eighty-eight schools that are part of the American Association of Community Colleges' Plus 50 Initiative offer six-month to two-year certificates and degree programs for older students.
Boomers Leading Change in Health, in the Denver area, helps those age 50-plus test-drive the health care field. Since the program launched in 2010, more than 400 boomers have taken some training.
Life Reimagined is a major new AARP initiative designed to help people explore what's next in their lives. Created in collaboration with experts in personal development, aging and social change, the program features resources, tools, coaching services and ways to connect with like-minded people.
- Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities by Richard J. Leider and Alan M. Webber
- The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher
- Second-Act Careers by Nancy Collamer
Sonia Collazo, 65, volunteer networking and presentations coordinator
Collazo retired from her job in conflict resolution for Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations after working there 27 years, and she knew she wanted to work in the Latino community. When she read that Congreso, a multiservice nonprofit for low-income local communities, was starting a Friday group for older Spanish-speaking adults, she volunteered.
Two months after she started, they began paying her to be the networking and presentations coordinator. Collazo finds speakers and arranges presentations on topics such as living wills, voter registration and HIV/AIDS, and uses her mediation skills to keep the diverse group simpatico. "I love what I'm doing, and as long as I have my health and energy, I'll keep working," she says.
Linda Rosso, 58, painter and marketing consultant
Rosso was a marketing and communications executive for a national public relations firm in San Francisco when the recession hit. "It was a good time to step off the path and look at what I really wanted to be doing," she says. While continuing to work in marketing, she took a painting course at a local college. When her oil landscapes began to sell, Rosso noticed that more accomplished artists were selling fewer paintings than she was.
She drew up a plan to help other artists market their work. Rosso continues to consult with companies and artists. "I've found the perfect job because I get to do everything I love," she says. She now gets paid to use her marketing and promotion skills, helps artists sell their paintings, and paints three days a week herself. She also has time to do volunteer work. Her new idea: Start an online marketing website to help artists sell their work, with a portion of the sales going to charity. "I think I can help them make a big difference in their careers," says Rosso.
Bob Groves, 66, teacher
In 2011, Groves, a nonprofit executive, unexpectedly lost his job. "I struggled mightily," he says. "Suddenly, I was no longer The Man I had been at work who people came to, and had to figure out how to fulfill myself."
Groves took courses in play reading, poetry and improvisational acting ("to stretch myself") at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia, one of 117 Osher programs on campuses nationwide designed to enhance the lives of semiretired and retired people. He decided he wanted to teach. Now 30 older students take his course on human rights; he teaches English to a woman from Nepal; and he gets to babysit his 2-year-old granddaughter every Thursday. If paid work came up, Groves would be interested but says he's "not actively looking for it." His wife still works full time.
Dianne Aguilar, 55, part-time community connections coordinator
A resident of Tempe, Ariz., Aguilar spent 30 years working for Arizona State University's athletic department and two professional sports teams. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and a year later lost her job. Soon, she exhausted her insurance. "At first I thought, 'woe is me,' but then I realized I always wanted to change my career and now is my chance," says Aguilar.
She enrolled in ASU's one-year certificate program in nonprofit management. Through Experience Matters, a local organization that connects boomers with nonprofits, she obtained a $20,000 stipend to work part time for a year for Mission of Mercy, an organization that provides primary health care for the uninsured — a cause close to her heart. There, she used her database expertise to help pilot a health education program. After the fellowship ended last November, Mission of Mercy asked Aguilar to stay on part-time to replicate the program in the organization's five other clinics. "The money isn't the same, but I feel I'm making an impact in the world," she says.
Sally Abrahms is based in Boston.
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