Encore Careers: Exploring new directions

There are many women, mothers or not, who are empty nesters, retired or simply ready for a more fulfilling career. 

These women are capitalizing on this interesting time in life when they now have time and freedom to launch an encore career. These encore careers can include full-time work in the nonprofit sector, part-time schedules in a new field or even starting a business. “People are living longer, and we’re adding more productive years to our lives,” says Richard J. Leider, one of the pioneers of Life Reimagined, an AARP program that helps people navigate this new life stage. “They’re eager to use this time to discover new possibilities and make new life choices.” An encore career, or second career, is work in the second half of life that combines continued income, greater personal meaning, and social impact. These jobs are paid positions often in public interest fields, such as education, the environment, health, the government sector, social services, or other non-profits.

The idea of an encore career dates to 1997, when a San Francisco-based nonprofit called Civic Ventures (since renamed Encore.org) introduced the idea.

Civic Ventures Encore Career Study found that among respondents interested in an encore career, most wanted to find a new type of role in a completely different industry. The reasons for starting a second career are sometimes rooted in need, but for some women, it is a necessity. Not everyone has a healthy retirement fund. Age discrimination is real and makes it hard for many older Americans to keep working in traditional jobs, even when they need the income.

Many women have pivoted to second careers in the nonprofit sector, although many have opted to explore the arts, business coaching or launching a new business.

A fairly large percentage of women, late Boomers or early Gen X, are involved in early-stage entrepreneurship and planning new businesses. With roughly 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, an encore career as a business owner is a way for women to maintain their energy, interest and creativity while adding to their financial security. Adults in late-middle age and older want to remain connected, relevant, useful and engaged. “There’s this collective feeling of ‘we’re not done yet,'” says Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook.

Some women who start businesses in their mid-sixties and beyond are looking to get into a new line of work that doesn’t come with the pressure of an earlier career, according to Donna Kelley, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College. “They get to the point in their lives where they ask, ‘Why should I pile all of this stress onto myself?’” One thing that’s made it easier for them to take the plunge is the growth of gig economy platforms, such as the crafts marketplace Etsy, where they can connect with clients, Kelley has found. “It reduces the entry requirements and makes it easy for people,” she said.

What a remarkable change and opportunity for retirement-aged women to reinvent themselves at an age that has historically been a time to exit the workplace!

The prospect of enjoying an encore career is exciting as we consider how much fulfillment and fun can come from doing something that actually holds our interest.