Last night I was at a wonderful gathering for a terrfici new book by social entrepreneur Marc Freedman called “Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life”.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter pointed out that it happens maybe once a century that we discover a new phase of life: we did this with childhood in the 17th century conceiving it as a phase different than merely being miniature adults; social scientists discovered adolescence in the early 1900s, and we invented retirement through Social Security under FDR in the 1930s. Marc Freedman has invented and drawn attention to a new emerging phase of life in American — the “encore” years — where Americans are increasingly carving out a completely new second career of 5-20 years between the retirement from their profession well before old age starts to settle in. While the number of years may be less than their “main career”, it is often the acme of their life in terms of its meaning and importance.
Freedman draws inspiration from a quote in Studs Terkel’s “Working” which observed that for most Americans, getting “daily meaning” from work is just as if not more important than getting “daily bread.” And Freedman cites a Chicago insurance worker from Working who noted that the problem with most companies is that they provide “jobs that are not big enough for people.”
The rapid reinvention of this Encore period offers the hope to:
– Make these years about so much more than being a dull weighstation between being “too old to work and too young to die.”
– Enlist the life experiences and trainings of millions of boomers in segments of the economy in which they want second careers (education, health care, government), the same segments that are struggling to fill their needs with young adults.
– Provide hope that Boomers and broader society will be able to look back on the amazing national dividend provided through their encore years. A dividend made possible by the huge educational investments made in Boomers, coupled with unparalleled economic opportunities and increases in longevity.
– Help with the threatened insolvency of Social Security by having Boomers contribute more and draw down less.
Encore tells its tale through the powerful voices of emerging Boomer social entrepreneurs who have reinvented themselves in these Encore years.
For example, Robert Chambers, a former used car salesman in New Hampshire who observed fellow used car salesmen preying on poor customers (who they called “woodchucks”) and trying to sell them the biggest wreck at the largest markup with the most expensive financing plan. It was one time as a poor customer was driving away in a wreck, with smoke belching from the tailpipes and salesmen high-fiving themselves in the showroom over the profit on the deal that he realized what a dis-service he was doing to society. The car that the poor customer depended on to get to work would break down in a year, and the customer would continue to have 4 years of high financial payments that would prevent him/her from buying a new car. Without a car, the customer would struggle to find a new job. Robert, whose sympathies for the poor, had been developed from serving in the Philippines, quit within a week. A fan of the radio talk show Click and Clack, he set up Bonnie CLAC which combines governmental aid to the poor and incentives to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles to enable poor customers to buy new fuel-efficient hybrids with low-interest loans.
Freedman’s goal is to empower millions more like Robert Chambers in using their talents and education for a wonderful Encore performance.
Let’s hope for our country’s sake that his efforts and others’ succeed in this effort to create the biggest movement since the women’s movement.
For more information visit Encore.