Talk about raising the retirement age and you’ve got a silver riot on your hands. But an increasing number of Americans, whether it’s because they need the money or want to try something new, are choosing to work in their retirement.
More than 5 million Americans between the ages of 44 to 70 have already launched "encore careers," according to Civic Ventures, a think tank on Boomers, work and social purpose, and millions more plan to join their ranks. A recent survey from the Employee Benefits Research Instituteshowed that 70 percent of workers today plan to work after they retire.
“There’s something about achieving mastery in one field that, when you move to a new field … You have a sense of confidence and poise in the world,” said Marci Alboher, vice president at Civic Ventures and author of “One Person/Multiple Careers.”
And we’re not just talking about working at Home Depot or the library — there are a huge range of opportunities for encore careers that utilize the skills people acquire in their careers as doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.
“Whatever field you’re coming from, you probably have transferable skills,” said Fred Mandell, a personal-transformation coach and co-author of the book “Becoming a Life-Change Artist.”
And by skills, Mandell said, it’s not just literal skills, like doing surgery or arguing a legal case, it’s your process skills — how you work and what your natural aptitudes and inclinations are.
Doctors: Diagnosis and Fixing the Problem
Sometimes it’s a logical transition, such as a doctor choosing to open a clinic in a developing nation or working with underprivileged children.
But other times, it’s taking those skills, really breaking them down, and applying them to a totally different career.
Take Stephen Alderman, an oncologist who, after losing his son in the Sept. 11 attacks, decided to turn his desire to help people in a new direction. He created a foundation with his wife, Elizabeth, that brings mental health counseling to familiesin places like Africa, where there is a lot of trauma but little in the way of help.
Or “Ron,” a 57-year-old neurosurgeon Mandell met while writing his book. Ron was forced to retire early after developing a medical condition that prevented him from doing surgery. He found an old camera in the attic and today, he’s used those same skills — the ability to research, weave a story together from disparate pieces of information, and make a diagnosis — to become a successful filmmaker.
Lawyers: The Bold and the Helpful
Alboher, a former lawyer, said the skills she developed as an attorney were extremely helpful for later jobs, first as a writer for the New York Times and now with her work for Civic Ventures.
“When I made the leap to journalism, I had no shyness tracking down top executives or other people — I worked with them all the time. They were my clients,” Alboher explained.
She clarified, though, that while your skills may come in handy, you have to remember that you may still need more training.
Maybe you’re a lawyer with a background in mergers and acquisitions, but you transition to doing pro bono legal work for underserved communities.
“Your legal background will be helpful, but you’re going to be dealing with a whole new set of issues you have to be trained for,” she said.
Maybe you have to learn some social work skills, fundraising skills or something like that.
And maybe — steady yourself — you may be trained by someone younger than you.
Engineers: The Problem Solvers
Engineers are critical thinkers but also problem solvers. They know how to take the toaster apart — and they’ll figure out how to put it back together.
That makes them well-suited for transitions into careers that involves problem-solving.
“They’re extremely employable in this market,” Alboher explained. “There’s a real need for people who have the ability to build systems and to solve problems,” she said.
Take Doug Grandt, an industrial and petroleum engineer, who turned his engineering skills on the environment and is now an advocate for measures that reduce carbon waste.
Or, Ray Umashankar, an engineering professor who decided to bring his problem-solving skills back to India, where he helps teach the children of sex workers high-tech skills — that can get them higher pay than basket-weaving or other low-paying jobs relief efforts typically train them for — and helps get them out from under the cycle of poverty.
Timothy Will was a telecommunications-system analyst who, in his encore career, has helped wire his Appalachian communitywith broadband Internet access and helped connect farmers with local restaurants, which has helped to revive the local economy.
Wall Street Types: Translating Finance into English
People with financial skills, like stockbrokers and analysts, are also in demand — particularly after the financial crisis. Whether it’s working for the government or helping kids, everyone it seems, could use someone who knows something about the financial system.
Take Lisa Dworkin, who had a long career as a foreign-currency trader. She decided to try teaching and started out as a substitute and teacher’s aide, and went on to write "Become a Money Master: Financial Education for Youth," a text book for schools to teach kids about finance and now she's working on a book to help parents teach their kids about finance. She also offers personal-finance tips on her blog and via Twitter.
"I could probably earn a very good living in the financial sector," Dworkin explained. "But I've learned through the years that I'm a person who has a real helper personality ... I think that's what was missing when I worked in finance."
"I like making money but it's not enough for me to be happy just making money," Dworkin said. "I want to help people ... and to help parents help kids avoid making the same money mistakes we all made," she added.
Mary Westropp, who works with New Directions, a Boston group that helps Boomers figure out what’s next, says she’s seen business executives go on to do everything from running an alpaca farm in New Hampshire to opening a vineyard in Oregon.
And their stories aren’t a straight line either. Will, the telecom analyst, took a detour in teaching high school before he found his calling for wiring Appalachia, while Dworkin made a stop at Sea World, pursuing her other love, marine biology, before she decided to combine her financial experience with her love of teaching.
What they all had in common was that they just kept trying things, making twists and turns along the path, until they found their encore career.
The biggest problem for most people is that they don’t know where to start. Or maybe it’s fear of the unknown, a fear of starting over later in life.
Mandell, who coaches seniors, said you just have to break it down.
Ask yourself what kind of things you like to do. Do you like public speaking? Do you like helping people?
In the book, Mandell and co-author Kathleen Jordan suggest finding your “trigger” activity that gets you thinking creatively — everything from listening to Mozart to floating in a pool, golfing alone, strolling through the woods, doing needlepoint, gardening — even folding laundry. Just something that opens up your brain.
“Start exploring,” Alboher suggests. Just get out there — start volunteering, start showing up where the people doing the things you’re interested in are doing. If you like animals, volunteer for the ASPCA. Start going to events that deal with animal welfare. See if there are conferences. Start reading — both books and online.
“Maybe something that was always a hobby moves to first place,” Alboher said.
Dworkin has one word of advice: "Volunteer!"
"It's kind of like a trial job — you get to know the company and they get to know you," she said. And, do it in more than one place — that will help you figure out what your best fit is.
And remember the advice from when you were starting your first career — ask people doing things that interest you for an informational interview.
“You will start to get ideas!” Alboher said.
Civic Ventures has a “Jump-Start Your Encore Career” section to help answer frequently-asked questions like what to expect from job hunting these days and how to update your skills, to how to finance the transition to your encore career.
Plus, there are tons of personal stories and interviews about what others are doing for an encore career — and how they got there.
Next Friday, Oct. 22, Alboher is holding an online “How to Find an Encore Career” seminar, which means you can “attend” no matter where you live.
One of the great things about second careers is that you bring your confidence as a CEO or doctor to the table, and more than likely, you enter at a higher level.
But remember that you are venturing into new territory, Alboher cautions, so even if you were the boss in your last career, you have to approach a second career with humility.
There’s still a lot to learn!