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.