It may have started when that ‘big one’ arrived. You know—your 50th birthday. That’s often the point when we start thinking about the finality of time. That’s also the point where many of us started thinking about the future in more concrete terms. Did we want to keep working our tails off for another fifteen to seventeen years? Could we ever afford to really retire? What if we needed to keep working well beyond retirement age just to survive? What if we could afford to retire at some point and ended up living for 20, 30, or more years? What would those extra years look like? How could we make the most of those years? What really, really mattered to each of us? Did we have a sense of purpose in our lives?
Our Retirement Needs are Different Than They Were in the Past
We’re a generation of pioneers. As Jo Ann Jenkins, the author of Disrupt Aging and the CEO of AARP suggested, we are facing an uncharted future because of our projected longevity.
Anticipating retirement was much different for earlier generations. Many of our parents and grandparents knew what to expect. They would often work for just a single employer. Then they would retire and get a pension. After retiring, they would have a few years of leisure time to relax and do what they wanted. Then they died.
Most members of our generation don’t have pensions, but we likely do have a lot of years ahead of us. This means that some of us will need to keep working for at least supplemental income. Others will want to keep working because they want their next chapter to matter in some significant way.
The Encore Movement Addresses Needs
Fortunately, many boomers are now turning to encore careers to meet their needs. Encore careers are ones that usually combine a source of income with meaningful work and an opportunity to serve the greater good. Encores can be ones we find or create. They could be part-time, full-time, or short stints.
As I shared in my retirement blog this week, I became interested in teaching after I turned 50 because I still needed to earn money, but I also wanted to do something meaningful and make a difference. Teaching full-time at a community college was my first encore career. After I retired from teaching, I created Boomer Best U, LLC as a part-time, second encore opportunity.
What If You Don’t Know What Kind of Encore Would Be Meaningful?
Some people don’t know what kind of encore career they want. Luckily, there are plenty of resources that can help us create meaningful visions for our own encore work. For some, it might start with assessing life experiences that have been meaningful. Dr. S. Brook Henderson, a writer, educator, consultant, and speaker, shared that “…the type of self-reflection an older adult generally engages in routinely will provide authentic assessment for them.” She also said that “…recapturing an ambition or desire from childhood is a wonderful way to move in a new direction.”
I personally did a lot of reflecting before I started my first encore career. I used journals as a reflection tool. I wrote about the most memorable and meaningful activities I had done in previous years. I also wrote about what specific roles I had and what each role actually involved. After a few months, I could see what was most important to me. Teaching is not a lucrative field, but it is one where I felt I could make a difference. It was also deeply satisfying. Interestingly, the desire to teach was something that also had been a theme in my childhood.
One of my friends and former colleagues, Susan Rochester, has conducted visual journaling workshops to help people find a vision for their lives. She has participants find images that resonate with them in some way. These images are placed in journals. She then helps people engage with these images in meaningful ways. For more information on this work, check out the www.artephilia.com site.
How Can We Find Encore Opportunities?
Let’s face it, ageism is an issue in the workplace. I wanted a full-time encore career as a speech communication educator. I didn’t have trouble finding part-time teaching opportunities, but it took quite a while for me to find a full-time position teaching after I reached fifty. Still, it is possible.
With an appropriate background, teaching part-time can be a way to invest in others, get paid, and experience satisfaction. I knew several people who enjoyed teaching part-time just because they enjoyed the connections and relationships they built.
Some current workers are able to shift into mentoring or other roles that allow them to invest in others while still feeling productive and earning income. Sometimes individuals don’t even know these modified roles are possible without asking or maybe proposing a new or hybrid role.
Volunteering is a way people can make a difference in the lives of others and in their communities. Sometimes volunteer work can lead to paid work as well. When I left a position as the executive director of a foundation, one of the most active volunteers ended up applying for and getting the position I had vacated.
For ideas and more information on encore opportunities, go to https://encore.org. We all have so much to offer, and there are so many people and organizations who need our expertise, experience, and skills. Together, let’s be that positive force that our communities, our environment, and our world need now more than ever.