In Marc Freedman’s book “Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life,” he speaks to many examples of older adults changing careers later in life.
One that stood out most to me was of a woman named Mary who had always dreamed of becoming a nurse. As a child she wore a handmade nurse’s uniform and dispensed care to neighbors. But as an adult, she ended up in office management. Once Mary reached 50, she decided to make a change and do something that she had always wanted to do, something that meant something to her ... become a nurse. After finishing nursing school in her mid-50s, she now works as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit of a small rural hospital.
Mary made herself a new life map. She realized that her lifespan had increased and with it so had her ambition and need for a meaningful life. A nursing career at 50 fit the bill.
According to the Social Security Administration, the average life expectancy is into the late 70s. Plus, a significant number of Americans are expected to live into their 90s. In fact, Americans who reached age 65 in 2011 are projected to live another 21 years to age 86, on average. If these same Americans reach age 86, their life expectancy would extend to age 93.
As Baby Boomers begin to turn 65, many expect to keep working well past retirement age. Nearly one in five working Americans tapped into retirement accounts in the past year, and some now worry they will outlive their savings.
There's also greater opportunity. We're living longer in better health. And some choose what author Freedman calls an “encore career.” If you're going to work into your 60s and 70s, he argues, you should do something meaningful, something with purpose.
At Senior Community Centers, we are seeing an increase in our clients using the computers and Internet access in our Bud & Esther Fischer Cyber Café, to update their resumes and apply for job openings. In fact, our resume building classes are always full to capacity. These older adults are reinventing themselves and looking to find purposeful employment that could be for financial reasons, but as well as to support their growth as they age, such as volunteering. The positive changes with our clients are indicative of the “encore career” and shift in perception about the working older adult.
As a nation we need a call to action to support older adults and the “encore career,” a stage of life characterized by purpose, contribution and commitment, and an opportunity for society to "grow up" along with its population. Investing this stage of life won’t happen by itself. The new stage could be the ultimate destination of sorts, the stage in life where you finally arrive and gives you the utmost satisfaction.
The 60-somethings headed our way will present our society with a shift. This shift will affect our culture, public policies and social thinking. They will lay the ground for future generations with the “encore years” the time between middle adulthood and anything that represents retirement. A time dedicated to them and their purpose in life. Let’s help to embrace the “encore years” and welcome it now and in the future when we are on its front steps.
Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to keeping San Diego seniors healthy and independent. Learn more at servingseniors.org.