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.
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.
THE WHOPPING BIG ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
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?
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.
ON TO ANOTHER PLAN
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 Encore.org) 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, Encore.org 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 Encore.org, “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.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RESOURCES GATHERED TOGETHER AND DEVELOPED BY ENCORE.ORG:
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.
A CONFESSION: I GOT SIDE-TRACKED
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 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.
The following YouTube video, published by JustStoriesVideo in 2012, features Jim May remembering the day that Holocaust survivor and president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation Lisa Derman died of a massive heart attack onstage at the Illinois Storytelling Festival while she was telling her story of survival.
It is a moving tribute as well as a testimonial for the power of Story.
ON-TRACK ONCE AGAIN (SORT OF)
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.
In the video honoring Lisa Derman, May mentions in passing his belief in the value of the wisdom of elders – wisdom that is part and parcel of the stories they tell.
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.
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 that he is grateful to for their stories, their wisdom and their support.
THE THING ABOUT SIGNAL TREES
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,
The wanderer has
No place to lay her weary head,
No place that enfolds her, no warm, no light.
No one tucks her away from the cold, the dark.
She tells herself she’ll make her own place,
A place where all the dispossessed,
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,
Someone who loves them even though they are not like
All the other ones – the orderly ones who march
All 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,
Tearing 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, anyway.
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
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