Recently, I’ve been hearing frequently from two kinds of people. On the one hand are Boomers who are worrying about, or now coping with, forced retirements; and, on the other, are folks who have already launched their post-retirement careers.
If you’re one of those worrying about the job that follows your big job, let me share the good news: Many encore careerists are having the time of their lives. There are a lot of us out here engaged in fulfilling work, often earning decent money, and at the same time enjoying more balance in our lives.
A number of factors suggest that the phase that follows your career peak may be your best time of all. Consider these points:
• After mid-life, it gets better. Many studies suggest that middle age, for both men and women, is the least happy time. One of toughest periods in your life may be during your 40s, even though your career is thriving and you have much of what you thought you wanted. One big study suggests that our happiness level tends to follow a U-shaped curved, dipping after age 40 but then rising again later in life.
• You become your real self. Carl Jung coined the term “individuation” to describe the process by which you integrate all the aspects of your personality to become a fuller, richer person in the later years of life. He said that in youth we develop a social façade that helps us to get along well at school and work, but it can limit us as we continue to develop. In mid-life we may abandon some of the restrictions of our socialized persona, and find ways to pursue the things that really matter. Our new sense of self can help us see an entirely different set of career options.
• Lifelong learning can open new doors. Around the world, universities are recruiting older students, and in the U.S. adults over 55 are going back to school in growing numbers. A study on lifelong learning by the American Council on Education says that adults aged 50 and older represents 3.8% of students enrolled in for-credit courses at colleges and universities. http://www.acenet.edu/Content/NavigationMenu/ProgramsServices/CLLL/Reinvesting/MapDirections.pdf
• Many second actors are enjoying great careers. Financial journalist Kerry Hannon writes about Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 who have launched encore careers. For more than three years, she has been interviewing some of the estimated 8.4 million Americans who have moved from a corporate or other traditional job track to an entirely new career that combines income with personal meaning and social impact. In her book “What Next?” Hannon offers fascinating portraits of 16 people who have changed career paths. http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Next-Follow-Passion-Dream/dp/0811871150/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291154597&sr=1-1
• Good health makes it possible. Obviously a key reason that Boomers can look forward to a very long career is that we enjoy the prospect of extraordinary longevity. If we’re already 50 we can expect to live to the mid-80s or longer. Studies suggest, however, that the lifestyle choices we make in mid-life may determine whether we have the health and vitality to enjoy a rewarding career later on. We can shape our lifestyle to delay or prevent many of the diseases and disabilities that could prevent us from engaging in meaningful work well into old age.
• We’ll make new friends. Having a network of supportive relationships can be a critical factor in successful aging. And having a broad network of connections can help us to spot opportunities as we restructure our careers again and again. The great news is that we won’t be alone as we look to forge new friendships. Middle-aged professionals may feel too busy to care for even their most treasured friendships, but priorities shift as people get older. After age 50, empty nesters and early retirees may refocus on their social lives, and we all may develop a new wave of nurturing relationships.
• Jobs will be there. With the U.S. unemployment still close to 10%, it may be hard to believe, but we’re heading toward another labor shortage. At Encore.org you can read an excellent study predicting that by 2018 there will be more jobs than people to fill them: http://www.encore.org/files/research/JobsBluestonePaper3-5-10.pdf For many sectors, the next generation of workers just won’t be able to fill the holes in the labor force. Employers will have an incentive to recruit retirees and to attract older workers by offering new kinds of training and schedule flexibility. Flextime and part-time schedules, job-sharing, and continued expansion of outsourcing will translate into new job opportunities for seniors.