Saturday, September 08, 2012

"Encore careers" seems to be the new buzzword for Baby Boomers

An AP article by personal finance writer Dave Carpenter was reprinted Friday in the NYT's Business Day section. It was all about us perpetually annoying Baby Boomers and a new trend for us to find "encore careers" that combine "personal meaning with social purpose."
As many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 already are in such careers as the second or third acts of their working lives, according to nonprofit think tank

But that number is poised to multiply as many boomers and others take steps to combine making a living with making a difference. Another 31 million older workers are interested in finding encore careers, based on a 2011 survey by the nonprofit. 

A mixture of longer lifespans, layoffs, shifting cultural attitudes and financial realities is causing this growing urge among over-50s to seek out more purposeful work. Sometimes it's just an itch to do something more purposeful in retirements that can now last for three decades, while still pulling in needed income. 

The demographics of 78 million baby boomers should ensure that this careers shift accelerates, says vice president Marci Alboher. 

"This trend has the potential to be a new social norm much the way that the dream of the golden years, of a leisure-based retirement, was an aspiration for the generation before," she says. 

Alboher is the author of the soon-to-be-released "The Encore Career Handbook," is an invaluable resource for older workers looking for purposeful career alternatives.
"Purposeful career alternatives." Kind of a clunky term but it's a handy way to describe what many Baby Boomers are trying to do with their retirement (or per-retirement). For awhile now, retirement has become less of a "leisure-based" lifestyle than one that combines do-gooderism with a little bit of freedom to travel, visit grandkids and recuperative time following the usual knee or hip replacement. 

I grew up in Florida, capital of leisure-based retirement. As a beach town, Daytona had more than its share of retirees. You saw them moseying down the beach, playing shuffleboard at City Island Park, and driving 10 m.p.h. down A1A. Half of our beachside neighborhood was made up of snowbirds, Michiganders or New Yorkers or Ohioans who spent most of their year in Daytona but who migrated north to visit family and friends during the hellish Florida summers. Many were widows, still-vital women who had moved to Florida with their retired autoworker husband only to find themselves alone after their spouse expired after a couple years due to golf ennui or shuffleboard overdose. This used to be one of the hazards of retirement, especially for hard-working men. They had nothing to sustain them outside of work. No hobbies. No creative pursuits. Nothing. So they just fade away, like General McArthur's "old soldiers."

We Baby Boomers have different attitudes and, to be fair, worked different sorts of jobs than our parents. I've reinvented myself several times during my life, as has my wife Chris. We're both surprised that I've been at my job more than 21 years and she's been at hers more than 10 years. We even have retirement plans that haven't been gutted by corporate raiders (like Bain Capital) or right-wing, Tea Party legislators.

We also both work in careers that combine "personal meaning with social purpose." Chris is a supervisor at the Cheyenne Family YMCA. Most people know the Y for its exercise classes and swimming pool, but it also offers daycare, summer camps, a myriad of classes and workshops for seniors, and scholarships for people with limited incomes. The VA Hospital uses the swimming pool for patient rehab. The Y "does good" on a daily basis. 

I'm a state employee that works in the arts. My road to this carer took me through jobs as newspaper reporter, newspaper editor, magazine writer, corporate publications editor and community college teacher. My two decades as an arts administrator has been interspersed with intense bouts of fiction writing which, occasionally, lead to publishing, as well as stints on various boards of directors for nonprofit organizations. I've served on the Wyoming Governor's Mental Health Advisory Council. I served on the first Laramie County Habitat for Humanity board and have been a board member for local social service nonprofit UPLIFT for 12 years. I've been an officer for the county Democratic Party. 

Every so often, Chris and my efforts intersect, as when we both served on the YMCA's Writer's Voice committee that brought professional writers and poets to the Y for classes and workshops. 

Our encore carers seem to be happening before our very eyes. We will retire in the near future. We will not go silently into that good night, as if any Baby Boomer could do that. We are loud and we are proud. Especially loud.

So what will these retirees do? I can retire in four years but Chris has a few more years past that -- she's younger than I am. I plan to spend time writing and travelling and volunteering and/or working for my local arts organization, wherever that may be. Chris isn't a writer, but she loves to travel and volunteer, which she may do for our local Y, wherever that may be.

Where will that be? Ironically enough, that may be in Florida. Almost all of my relatives live there -- eight brothers and sisters and their many offspring. Chris's only sister lives there. Chris and I both went to high school in Florida and I graduated from the University of Florida. We have salt water in our veins from the many hundreds of hours spent on the beach. 

Still, we've lived on the Front Range of Colorado and Wyoming for 34 years, with two years off in Washington, D.C., for bad behavior (a temporary work assignment). We have lots of friends in Cheyenne, Fort Collins and Denver. Fort Collins is one of the region's most happening arts towns. Denver is my birthplace and where I spent ten years of working life, where our son was born.

Who knows? I have four years to figure this out. Four whole years! It won't go fast, will it?

Will it?

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