Excerpted from The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life by Marci Alboher. © 2013 by Civic Ventures. Reprinted with permission of Workman Publishing Co. Inc.
So how do you know if you're ready for your encore? Usually there is a combination of signs – a set of challenges, obstacles, or realizations signalling that it is time for a change.
Everyone's encore story is different, but just as other life stages are marked by rites of passage, they fall into some familiar patterns. As you read the following stories, think about whether one – or more than one – of these scenarios is familiar to you. And don't be surprised if you find yourself nodding in agreement with several or all of them. There's a lot of overlap here.
At 53, with her children grown and launching their own careers and families, Suwon Smith finally had a chance to assess her life. She'd risen through the ranks at CitiGroup in New York City, picked up a college degree at night along the way, and somehow managed it all as a single mother. Her reward? Working six days a week, 12 hours a day. Suddenly it hit her. "It was just me and I didn't have to work like that anymore." Smith left her job with no plan for what to do next. The day after her resignation, she entered a period she called being "lost in the sauce." She was used to the phone ringing all day, and suddenly she was home and everyone around her was busy in their own lives. She first had to reestablish relationships with friends and family, but in time, she was ready to focus on herself.
If you're "Burning Out," you just can't keep up with the pace of your life anymore. You need to catch your breath, step off the treadmill, get out of the rat race (choose your cliché). But you probably can't even think about what's next until you figure out a way to slow yourself down. …
The End of the Line
After being laid off from her job as a forklift operator in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Priscilla Santiago did something she wished she had been able to do 43 years earlier: She got her GED [a high school equivalent degree]. And she didn't stop there. She went on to get an associate's degree at Housatonic Community College and a bachelor's degree at Polk University, where she graduated at 63. Santiago's earlier education was derailed at 16 when she dropped out of school after she was sexually abused. Nearly 50 years later, she's hoping her degrees will help her assist other victims of abuse.
If you've gotten to "The End of the Line," you've been laid off, your business has dried up, or your field has changed so significantly that you're beginning to feel obsolete. At this point it would be just as hard to keep doing what you've always done than it would be to try something new. Between a recession that has decimated entire industries and the shift from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, just about every family seems to have someone who has reached this moment.
Sally Bingham's three grown children were on their own, as was she, after the end of a long marriage. Bingham wondered what she would do and what she was even capable of doing. In all her years of marriage, she had never even managed her own money. Finding the courage to change, Bingham returned to college in her forties, then to seminary, ultimately becoming an ordained priest at the age of 55. Now 70, Bingham heads an organization she founded to help congregations make more environmentally sound decisions. To top it off, Bingham is earning a living for the first time in her life and a pretty significant one at that.
Illness, the death of someone dear, divorce, even an empty nest – these kinds of upheavals can all be the pivotal point for an encore shift. If you've experienced "A Loss," you may find that the way to move forward is to immerse yourself in a project that channels your grief or emotional energy into purposeful work.
A Crisis of Conscience
Marcy Gray Rubin remembers the moment when she knew she would leave a successful career as a television writer. Her father was terminally ill, and she'd taken off from work to spend time with him. She'd only been gone a few days when her agent called. "Just let me know when it's a done deal," he said, "so you can fly back for the pilot season." Rubin fired her agent that day and stayed with her father until his death six weeks later. After a period of mourning, she focused on finding a new career. "I just had to get away from a world where a lousy parking space or a bad hair day are considered important," she said. After going back to school for her master's degree, Rubin is now a practising psychologist. Her new life has its trade-offs. She makes a fraction of what she made as a television writer, but she said she feels honoured to do the work. "You get to be part of people's lives in the most joyous and most tragic circumstances."
"A Crisis of Conscience" can happen over an extended period or hit you suddenly, but you know you can't continue what you've been doing any longer. You know there must be a better way to use your talents and earn a living.
Are You a Leaper or a Planner?
Once you arrive at your encore moment – regardless of how you get there – there are pretty much two ways you can go forward. You can leap. Or you can plan. If you're a leaper, an opportunity strikes and you plunge right in without much thought. After the initial leap, you may find that you dig in for a long period of time, having found your place. Equally likely, you may step back to reassess and adjust or find that the initial leap was just the first step on a longer journey. …
If you're a planner, you do your homework and come up with an idea, then research options about how to make it happen. You may be waiting to hit a milestone – last child off to college, an eligibility age for early retirement, a round amount of savings that makes you comfortable taking a risk. You may modify the way you work so that you have some free time for an immersion experience like an internship or volunteer work. You may need some new skills or even a certification or degree. Whatever the case, if you're a planner, you're thinking about the steps to an encore before you pull the trigger.