In America, dating since the original Social Security Act of 1935, retirement and making it intact to the “Golden Years,” (when you are supposedly free to stop working and “enjoy” lazing around in the little bit of life span you have left once you stop working) has been a gold-standard goal.

“Gold Watch” by Tim Ellis via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The paradigm among the “human resource” contingent of the time, was that you’d be a tired, shopworn bit of humanity and could be sidelined like a piece of obsolete old equipment that was still in working order but kind of irrelevant.

It made a horrible sort of sense, that — especially after the rise of the Industrial Revolution when people were often seen as interchangeable parts in an ever-more-efficient system of production and productivity.

Young people were encouraged (and even brow-beaten) into going for and hanging on to “secure” and possibly meaningless-to-them jobs and to diligently squirrel away the nickels and pennies that were left over from paying for the lives they were living in order to build up a retirement fund for the winter of their life.


There is only one problem.

Since the retirement thing was first conceived in the early 1880’s by Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck of Germany – the first-of-its-kind social insurance program — all the smarty pants in labs and such have been pushing our physical envelopes.

We are now living longer and longer lives thanks to all of the advances in medicine and technology.  People are living decades after the official start of the “Golden Years.”

It has been one of the major societal goals of every culture, after all.  Who doesn’t want to live long and prosper?

“Shouxing – Chinese god of longevity” by Anne Petersen via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
When the then-new concept of “retirement” was first proposed, our human lifespans were not much more than three-score and ten.  It was expected that your body’s expiration date was about 70 or so years after you checked into this world.

Therefore, it was assumed that if you retired at 65 it was quite likely that you’d fall over dead very shortly thereafter.  The social program that helped you live your life as an old person was sustainable, it was thought.

It sort of worked for a while, but that’s no longer happening.

Now there’s a whole generation of older folks wondering whether whatever stack of money they’ve hoarded (if they ever got around to it during their “active” years) will last long enough and, for sure, the government subsidy thing keeps on shrinking as the cost of living heads on up.

The bills don’t stop during the “Golden Years.”  You still have to eat and you still need a roof over your head and your body…well, it’s been lived-in.

It breaks down.  Maintenance costs.

And, even more depressing, we’ve all figured out that people can really get bored spending twenty-some years slouching around doing nothing much.

Frankly, the so-called freedom of not-working sucks.

A new freedom is beginning to replace it as the Ultimate Goal:  the freedom to find and keep working at something that holds meaning for you.


For the past twenty years and more author and social entrepreneur Marc Freedman has been working on fostering the idea of the “encore career,” a second vocation in the latter half of one’s life.

The idea dates from 1997 or 1998, when Freedman’s San Francisco-based nonprofit called Civic Ventures (since renamed introduced the notion.

Freedman’s non-profit developed into an innovation hub bent on “tapping the talent of people over 50+ as a force for good.”

By the time he gave the following talk at TEDxDrexelU in 2013, Freedman had co-founded “Experience Corps,” mobilizing thousands of Americans over 55 to improve the education of low-income elementary children.

He was spearheading the presentation of the Purpose Prize, an annual $100,000 award for social innovators in the second half of life.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) now runs both of these programs.

Freedman was also the author of four books about encore careers and the longevity revolution and a tireless proselytizer about the value of utilizing skills developed over a long career to help society.

In his talk, which was published in 2013 by TEDxTalks, Freedman pointed out that people are living longer and the old Golden Years plan is no longer working so well.

Since that talk, has developed the Encore Fellowships program, a one-year fellowship helping individuals translate their midlife skills into “second acts” focused on social impact as well as the Encore Network, a coalition of leaders and organizations that help people turn those longer lives into an asset.

Freedman and his colleagues have written other books and continued to develop programs.

The concept has taken off.  Millions of older adults, aged 50 years and older, are working on delving into and developing a “second act” as the end of their primary careers draws closer.

A 2009 video published by, “Timothy Will, 2009 Purpose Prize Winner” is a moving presentation by one of the winners of the organization’s Purpose Prize who leveraged his experience and skills into a way to help his Appalachian neighbors get back to the land.

The video was one of many.

The encore career has become a way to combine personal passion, social purpose and a paycheck, as Freedman is wont to say.



The upshot of all of this is that Freedman has been marvelously successful at instigating the Longevity Revolution.  Many others have taken up the banner as well.

Opting for an encore career has become a trend, even a movement.

Many baby-boomers and others who’ve reached (or are approaching) retirement age choose to do some other thing that fulfills their need to grow and to continue to engage with the world as well as to help pay the bills that just keep on coming.


Instead of getting more deeply into the nuts and bolts of this very interesting topic, I was side-tracked — sucked into a book written by master storyteller Jim May, TRAIL GUIDE FOR A CROOKED HEART:  Stories and Reflections for Life’s Journey.

This quintessentially human book is soul-satisfying, meandering through stories from May’s personal life (with lots of old wisdom-tales thrown in) that present us humans in all our glory and flat-footed stubborn.

More than anything else, it illuminates the value and the uplifting power of Story in our human journeys.

After working in construction, then becoming a teacher and a counselor, May gave in to his passion for telling a good story, following a family tradition that produced many a fine raconteur.

For more than 25 years, as a professional storyteller, May presented stories at story-telling festivals and events that drew tale-spinners from around the country together in the United States, Canada and Europe.

He’s appeared at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee four times and has participated in England’s oldest and most respected folk festivals at Towersey and Sidmouth.

One of his favorite things, he said, was appearing on the Studs Terkel radio show in Chicago.

In 2000 May was named by his peers to the Circle of Excellence, the highest of honors for the storytellers in the National Storytelling Network.  Before that, he won a Chicago Emmy for a WTTW-Channel 11 production of his original short story, “A Bell for Shorty.”

The man is good.

In this 2015 YouTube video uploaded by the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute, May demonstrates how to make a talking banana…an adorable bit of silliness that he learned from fellow storyteller Margie Brown.

It occurred to me after I had digested all of this, that May is also a fine example of a person who developed a personally satisfying encore career that worked well for him.

The thing he exemplifies is what happens when you look for (and find) another Why to live, and then do it well.


Throughout history, in every culture, the stories the old people tell link the young ones to the procession of ancestors.  They present ages-old human dilemmas as well as solutions and guidelines about strategies and actions that have worked in the past.

“An Elder Speaks (Whaea Kātarina Daniels, Te Ū Hui-ā-motu),” by New Zealand Tertiary Education Union via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
These wisdom stories can be an enormous help to someone who is looking for clarity or a new direction.

One of the chapters in May’s book starts with a quote from James Hillman in his book, THE FORCE OF CHARACTER: And the Lasting Life, a stunning reflection about life’s second half:

“The final years have a very important purpose:  The fulfillment and confirmation of one’s character.  When we open our imaginations of the idea of the ancestor, aging can free us from convention and transform us into a force of nature, releasing our deepest beliefs for the benefit of society.”

That chapter in May’s book is titled, “Signal Trees.”  In it he tells stories about the mentors and elders to whom he is grateful for their stories, their wisdom and their support.


Signal trees are said to be a Native American way of shaping tree saplings to mark significant locations.

According to the lore surrounding the signal trees, they are a part of a navigational system through the forests and waterways of northeastern and southeastern tribes throughout North America.

The manipulated trees, we are told, mark sacred gathering places, trails that were important, a fresh water source off a main route, indications of deposits of flint, copper, lead and other minerals important for medicinal and ceremonial purposes as well as portage points and linkages to other major trails

The three-tonged bur oak tree in the header picture is considered to be an Indian Signal Tree.  It’s even labeled by a bronze plaque, even though there is still some mystery surrounding its purpose.

The button below takes you to a Summit Metro Parks article that explains more about the tree and about signal trees in general.


As May points out in his book, if you’ve lived your life well, age gives you gifts – patience, tolerance, resilience, a long-term perspective, varied life-experiences and well-developed skills — that are worth sharing with those who come after you.

And that is the point of this new Longevity Revolution:  You, too, can become a signal tree.

An encore career has been described as “a new chapter of work,” something you move on into after you have spent many years at one kind of work, often quite successfully.

The encore career can be a deepening and broadening of the career you’ve already built, using the stockpile of skills you’ve mastered and the lessons your experiences have taught you that will allow you to reach a different level in your field as a self-employed freelancer and entrepreneur, a consultant, a coach, or a mentor.

It might be about you finally starting out doing your own passion your own way and finding ways and opportunities to keep on playing in this new field that enriches your life and fills it with meaning.

An encore career could be a position as a volunteer supporting some solution to the social ills around us or toward fostering some good thing you want to see grow.

It can also be a way to stay active and to feel useful.

And, of course, an encore career very often is a way to help fund your “Golden Years.”

For whatever reason, the encore career has become a significant and growing economic trend and movement that the baby-boomers are spearheading these days, it seems.


The following YouTube video, “Encore Careers:  From Social Trend to Social Movement,” was published in 2012 by NextAgenda as a promotional piece.

What’s even more interesting is the more recent development featured in this next video, “Encore Careers: How to Find Your Perfect Job At Any Age,” published by The List Show TV in 2018.  It features Jared Cotter of The List, the national Emmy award-winning show that looks at pop culture and currently trending ideas.

The Longevity Revolution continues to grow and spread.  It’s even crossed generational lines.

Here’s a poem I made honoring a friend who wandered through a series of foster homes in her youth.  She made her baby dreams come real and her life is now one of great joy for her and for the ones she embraces.


Orphan child stands apart,

Always the stranger, unfettered and untied.

The wanderer without a place to lay her weary head,

A place where she can belong,

A place that enfolds her in the warm and the light.


Tucked away from the cold, the dark,

She’ll make her own place, she tells herself,

A place where all the dispossessed and

All the abandoned ones can come

And find someone who sees them as they are,

Someone who is not afraid to hold them in the dark,

Even though they are not like all the other ones –

The orderly ones who march in a line step by step,

Trying really hard to all be the same.


In her place, there will be no fear of hard eyes and cold mouths,

That tear your heart to bits,

Unerringly finding the sore places

With tongues of ice and fire.

All of those demons will be exorcised away.


She’ll send them to some other place

Where they can play their games

With others of their own kind.

(She won’t leave them to wander like refugees in the night.)

Cruelty will be banished in the laughter and the joy

Of seeing ones who reach out to hold you warm and safe.


That’s what she says….

And we will play, she says,

Oh, how we will play:

Games of beauty, games of grace,

Gales of laughter and soft, loving tears

From hearts that overflow.


It could happen. 

Yes, it could.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Akron Signal Tree” by Greg Habermann via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.


  1. Mike LaPlante says:

    Wow! I’m 58 so this post resonates for sure.  I am engaged in my own ‘Encore Career’ so I found this particularly inspiring.  Your site is beautiful and classy.  You have clearly been working on it for some time, and it shows. I believe your visual execution lends even more authority to your post, and the post itself, with your great links, is a mini-course in ageing and personal development. 

    My overall impression was at first a slight dread, because of my age, but then an overall feeling of calm and acceptance. I have personally found many benefits to aging, but have also experienced much sadness as those around me have faltered, simply because they lacked the same level of luck as I.

    In the end, I now feel motivated to raise my glass to the concept of the Encore Career.  Well done! 


    1. Thank you for the visit and for sharing your thoughts on how the post affected you, Mike.  I am very pleased that it spoke to you in a way that helps put things in perspective.

      Please do come again….

  2. Joseph Stasaitis says:

    Very interesting article on the retirement thing down through history since its inception.  I like how you tied it all up with the factor of lifespan and how they have increased since the inception of the social insurance program.

    I agree that that freedom of not working sucks as so many folks regardless of financial means are bored to death after retirment.  Finding  meaning is important at all stages of our lives but especially when retired.

    I like the idea of an encore career, where you can earn money from something you enjoy.  I have been preaching this for years.  Experience Corps sounds like a fantastic program for folks at and nearing retirement.

    The  Encore Fellowships program sounds like a very worthwhile program.  Lots a good info in this most interesting article.  Thanks so much for making me aware of this.  

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Joseph.  I’m glad the post was a help.

      Please do come again.

  3. For sure ringing some bells in my brain LOL. I will be 66 this year and the body maintenance is killing me LOL

    Golden years my ass and I mean that literally, nobody wanted to look up my ass till I was older LOL

    I have fought and beat 2 major medical problems in the last 2 years and now another one is creeping up(hint- I’m carrying nitro-glycerin wherever I go)

    I do not feel like it is my time to sit back, actually I am more energized to be active where I can. Not physically , there is so much more we can offer! I spend my time in the digital world and it has helped my golden pocket book lol

    1. Thanks for the visit, Dennis, and for sharing your story. It’s a grand thing that you’ve kept active in the digital world. Good on ya!

      Please do come again….

  4. Hi Tita, what a big surprise upon visiting your site I am at that stage in life and much like you I have many years to live.

    Well, maybe not, but I can’t think old. I look in the mirror and I see an older person but I don’t feel that way. My spirit is the same as it was at the age of 30, Just enough so I know I had a bit more intelligence then I was at 20.

    I realize that I am better equipped now than I was at 30.

    I am retired now at 68. I wasn’t ready to retire at 65, but you are so right everything gets more and more expensive and we still have to pay the bills.

    My pension doesn’t support me. And I have a grandson who is at the age of 15 that I bringing up and will still need me for the next 5 years. He keeps me young (or is it me that keeps me young?). I don’t feel like I am pushing 70.

    So I have really enjoyed your post and I now feel like I am not the only person that feels this way. That there are more of us out there. I guess I am rambling but ha, I guess I have earned that right.

    always a better way

    1. Linda, thanks for the visit and for sharing your story. Mostly, when I look in the mirror, I figure that I’ve got a pretty good disguise going. Young spirits with old faces…that’s us!

      I am glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again….

  5. My grandfather used to tell me that back in days the retiree will get the gold watch as their pension. The sad part is that the gold watch was probably worth more to them than us relying on the social security. I have seen many people cannot retire when they are supposed to because the SSC doesn’t cover all their expenses. 

    Thank you for sharing about Freedman. And also Jim May. I will have to watch all the videos you share tonight after work 🙂 


    1. Nuttanee, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  6. Feochadan says:

    I know quite a few people that, at age 65, certainly are not ready to sit at home and do nothing.  

    I must say that I am one of the more fortunate ones.  I am only 53 but have had so many different careers in my life, one folding into another, that I am looking at this time of starting my own online business as just another career change and not semi-retirement!  

    Many people haven’t had this adventuresome style and have stuck with the same job for their entire lives but this is changing now, I think.  

    I do love the idea of having an encore career for such people.  People need to feel needed after retirement and you have hit just the right note.

    1. Feochadan, thanks for your visit and for sharing your story and your thoughts.  My own thought is that if we’re not dead, then we’ve still got stuff to do here and it’s a good thing to get on with doing them.

      I love your description of your “many careers, one folding into another.”  The best thing about that is you know you’ve negotiated change before and you are ready and able to do it again.  Cool!

      Please do come again.  

  7. I’ve never heard of it called an “Encore Career” before, but it is so true. 

    My husband worked in construction since he was a teenager. The physical work has taken such a toll on him that he can no longer do many things that he once did. 

    He’s slowed down, but he’s not ready to quit working, so he took some additional vocational training to enter into a less physically stressful job.

    I have heard of signal trees, but loved the read on those as well. Great article!

    1. Willow, thanks for the visit and for sharing your husband’s story.  It’s great that he’s adapted to his limitations and transitioned into a less physical job.  

      I know it’s a big one for guys who’ve always been able to work with their hands and bodies to have to accept that it just isn’t as easy as it once was.   Accepting that what used to be easy for them is just not so easy any more can be a crusher.   

      It’s cool that he is working on adapting to the new situation and carrying on anyhow.   

      Please do come again.

  8. I like your talks about the idea of having a retirement account and how this is not as applicable as it once was since we live much longer than we use to. 

    I think that the information on signal trees was interesting as well. How has signal trees affected your life and outlook on longevity?

    1. Jon, thanks for your visit and for your question.  I was raised by my grandparents so a lot of my life has been blessed by many older folks who provided many (and often conflicting ways) of looking at the world than just the viewpoints current with my generation or with the modern world, I suppose.  

      Because I’ve always been surrounded by so many different perspectives, this has tended to give me a smorgasbord of examples and possible ways of moving.  It allows me to pick and choose how I want to move and why.

      Also, because so many of the folks around me were long-lived, I got to see how they lived their lives and got to grace (or not), and the mistakes and lessons they learned as well.  

      Young people, too, can also be signal trees, where grand ideas come together.  I’ve known several who helped me understand things that had me confused.  

      Please do come again.

  9. I cannot begin to express how brilliant I think this cause is. It’s actually making me get emotional. I never ever heard about this program and your article was thoroughly informative covering every detail of the cause, Encore, from inception to the current day. 

    I am not sure if I overlooked this but is this programme only in North America? Thank you for sharing this information.

    1. Karen, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  As far as I know, the Encore program is operating in the United States.  There may be offshoots or similar ideas in other countries as well, but I do not know about them.  

      Please do come again.

  10. Neil Brown says:

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring post. Now that I am at the age of 50, I still have a few years to go before I hit retirement age, I can understand how some people look forward to retirement so they can put their working years behind them and spend some quality time engaging in things that they enjoy, but most often when a person reaches that point, they feel lost and gradually their health starts to decline.

    Myself, I have always enjoyed the idea of staying busy, if I am not working at something that I enjoy, I get bored and idle hands real quick. 

    I am not crazy about working at a regular job working for an hourly rate for too much longer, but the internet is ever increasingly growing and has a huge opportunity for income that I hope to spend my golden years engaging in.

    Thanks for sharing the poem, I really appreciate it.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Neil.  I say that you’re several steps ahead of the ones who put off doing what they love until after they retire.  

      You are right, I think.  If you wait until you retire to do the things you enjoy or if you never take the time to figure out what it is that you really enjoy, then when you get to retirement, it is likely that you’ll feel more than a bit lost.

      Good luck on your adventures.

      Please do come again.

  11. Hello, thanks for this very detailed and informative post on joining the longevity revolution.  I’m 25 but I think it’s important that I start preparing for my 60s and 70s.  Hence this post is very useful to me. 

    I like the way you outlined your thought and drove it home.  I’m sharing this with my dad right away.  He’s 54 already and this will be very important to him.

    1. Jomata, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  

      I don’t know.  At 25, I don’t think I was at all sure where I was going to be in my 60’s and 70’s.  My own feeling is that at the start of your journey, your business is probably about grabbing onto as many different ways of living as you can, exploring what this big old world has to offer and tasting and feeling whatever you like that’s on offer.  

      If you play it that way, maybe by the time you can see the backside of 60 coming up, you’ll be so full of tastes and feels and different ways of doing things that you’ll be able to pick out how you want to be dancing your way on outa here.  

      Knowing you’re likely to be living for long and long seems to me to be a really good excuse to play as hard as you can and get as good as you can at what you like doing.

      And when you get old, the playing doesn’t have to stop.

      Please do come again.  

  12. Lizzychris says:

    Hello there, nice article you have there on “retirement”

    What really caught my attention is that one can be of age to retire but still fit and healthy! Thanks to improvement in medicine and other health related firms, we can be 60 and have the body of 35!  So at that point retirement really sucks. 

    I like the idea of ” encore career”, I will keep it in mind . Thanks

    1. Lizzychris, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  An “encore career” does keep life interesting after you’ve been around for more than half-a-century or so.  

      Here’s a thought:  instead of waiting until you get closer to retirement, you might want to start setting up for your next career while you’re still doing the first one.  (It gets way interesting when you do that.)

      Please do come again.

  13. PayneMastrFlex says:

    Thanks for the interesting read. I definitely have ran into my fair share of people who  have retired and then get so bored out of their mind they end up finding something else to do! 

    I think it is important for people to strive to retire with the business not retire from business – leaving a legacy to the next generation is huge. Allowing your ceiling to become your children’s foundation is the only way to build generational wealth.

    1. PayneMastrFlex, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I like the way your thoughts are trending.  “Allowing your ceiling to become your children’s foundation” is a beautiful turn of phrase.

      Please do come again….

  14. Stacey Daniels says:


    I have now joined the “Longevity Revolution”.  My full time working years were relatively healthy, with the exception of a little operation about eight years ago, and financially satisfying. However, after six months of retirement, I was itching to find an “Encore Career”.  I think there are a few more things I can share before my time is up.

    So, your topic caught my attention and I will be sharing said topic with others who are in the same boat.  

    The content and layout were great.  However, an awful to digest in our twitter world where most people are not programmed to sit and read for more than ten minutes at a time.  That being said, I think the way you presented the material is so engaging, most readers looking for an “Encore Career”, will have a hard time putting this article down.

    Good job.


    1. Good on ya, Stacey!  You go!  An encore career is surely an exciting thing to go do.

      I do hear what you’re saying about the length of the post, but I am finding that if the topic warrants it, I have a hard time turning it into sushi.  Hee!

      Please do come again…. 

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