The Encore Years: Passion and Purpose

Every day for the next 10 years, ten thousand Americans will reach the traditional retirement age. Like their parents before them, some will leave demanding careers to pursue leisure activities and long-standing interests. Some will continue working in their chosen fields, perhaps addressing shortfalls in retirement resources. Others may look for paid or unpaid positions that leverage a lifetime of skills, wisdom, and experience in service of others.

Marc Freedman’s book Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life provides an extended argument in favor of pursuing meaningful work in one’s “golden years.” He notes:

  • older man at workLives are getting longer; careers are getting shorter. As such, it pays to cultivate a second (or third or fourth)
  • An active lifestyle is twice as important as one’s genetic inheritance in helping individuals thrive in later life.
  • Extended work improves psychological and physical health.
  • Social connections cultivated in work and volunteer settings support successful aging.
  • Interacting with youth – e.g., tutoring or mentoring – helps people stay young.
  • Older Americans need to stay engaged in the workforce to forestall an anticipated labor shortage.

These “encore years” can be all about choice. They open up the possibility of passionate involvement in something about which individuals care deeply. They may offer flexibility in the times of years, times of day, and hours one works. And they can bring just the right amount of income to bridge the gap between income/resources and monthly expenses. Freedman refers to this period as a chance to “blend the spirit of social impact with the pragmatic need for real pay and benefits.”

To be clear, the “encore years” are not just a transitional phase between one’s primary career and retirement. It’s a new body of work that marries clear-eyed pragmatism with the determination to make the world better.

I had the opportunity to participate in Freedman’s Encore Fellows program through a placement with the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF). My fellowship focused on promoting volunteerism in Early Childhood Education (ECE). The project had the following goals:

  • man reading with childBring adults into children’s lives in ways that improve the children’s readiness to learn
  • Increase the capacity of ECE organizations to serve young children
  • Raise awareness of early childhood as a volunteer arena for older adults
  • Educate the early childhood field about how to use volunteers effectively

OCF engaged a wide array of organizations in the project through pilot programs, volunteer management audits, and funded implementations. Working individually and collectively, they explored requirements for recruiting, training, and supporting older adults in working with young children and their families. They also address orientation and training needs for program staff to incorporate Boomers into their working environments. My principal task was to capture “best practices” and create a repository of materials that could be customized readily by ECE organizations around the State.

encore fellowSuffice it to say, I learned a lot about early childhood through my year with OCF. My position included participation in Social Venture Partners Portland’s (SVPP’s) Ready for Kindergarten initiative. I spent two years on SVPP’s Grant Evaluation Committee – once as a member, and once as its Chair. I was also part of a cohort of Fellows who met monthly to explore all aspects of non-profit management and share things we learned from our varied assignments. It was a great experience through which I made a number of strong connections.

Now several years into my “encore years,” I’m still engaged part-time in my long-time career while continuing to pursue projects that deliver favorable results for my community. I really don’t think about “retiring,” per se. I expect that I’ll always seek some form of purposeful work that stimulates my brain, stretches my capabilities, ignites my passion, builds connections, and contributes to my community. And having built up my “nest egg,” I’ve earned the privilege of choosing how I’ll invest my time and talents. And that feels mighty “golden” to me!