Baby Boomers Ready to Change the World…Again

Marc Freedman of Encore.org is leading a kind of “do-gooder revolution,” aimed at convincing Baby Boomers to atone in advance for their predicted future drain on society’s resources. In his book, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, Marc envisions a 21st Century wave of social transformation as Baby Boomers shift their focus from self to society.

Navigating the New Stage Beyond MidlifeChallenging the accusation that Baby Boomers represent an imminent and unprecedented drag on society, Freedman predicts this famously self-infatuated demographic group will reinvent itself in mid-life, imbued with a need to discover meaning beyond the materialism and narcissism of their earlier traditional careers. Thus energized, Boomers will turn midlife crisis into a new birth of creativity, aimed primarily at helping others across a broad scope of endeavor. Hence, a virtual tsunami of BenefactorsIt’s an exciting vision, nothing short of a social and cultural movement. Freedman has designated this new phase of life between “the end of midlife and the beginning of anything life traditional retirement” as the Encore years, and he calls these Boomer “second acts” Encore Careers.

I heard Marc speak almost two years ago here in Phoenix, when The Big Shift was published, and I was eager to check in on the progress of the revolution. Experience Matters, a Phoenix-based organization established in 2009 to help Boomers find satisfying Encore Career opportunities, sponsored an event here on January 9th. Marci Alboher, Vice President of Encore.org, was featured, introducing her new book, The Encore Career Handbook, a kind of roadmap for those of us wondering “How to make a living and a difference in the second half of life.”

The event, sponsored by MetLife, was well-attended and well-organized, with what appeared to have been about a hundred Boomers on hand. All of this suggests Freedman’s vision has validity and momentum.

Marci’s presentation of her new book was energetic, earnest and informative. She’s too young to qualify for Boomer status, but she’s passionately devoted to the Encore cause.

Her remarks were followed by a panel discussion led by Tim McGuire of Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism exploring a number of issues related to Encore Career transitioning with a panel of three Encorists: a retired airline pilot who has started an in-home care service and two former corporate types, both articulate women, now involved in non-profit organizations, one of whom works for Experience Matters.

The two corporate Encorists, Denise Shubert and Gail Knight, remarked that the transition to the non-profit world requires an acceptance of a “kinder, gentler” pace, which I took to mean slower and less intense with a less rigorous expectation for results. They also noted that the non-profit world provided much leaner support, mandating a willingness to be more a jack-of-all-trades.

I especially enjoyed their observation that many of us choosing to go this route will have to adjust our self-images. In our Encore careers we become PIPs, Previously Important People, and we have to downsize our egos appropriately. That can be a hard one, I’m know.

Gary Bates, the retired TWA/American Airlines pilot, now CEOwner of an in-home care business seemed to be the most excited of the three. Of course starting a business is a much bigger change and a much bigger bet than simply switching jobs from profit to non-profit. You put everything on the line when you start a business, and your mistakes can cost more than a little embarrassment. The whole nest egg might be at risk. That introduces an element of anxiety and tension. Self-doubt can invade your state of mind, even to the point of paralysis. But you’re in charge, and that’s always exciting.

Two twenty minute breakout sessions followed the panel discussion, allowing attendees to explore from a set of specific opportunity topics:

Social Entrepreneurship in Your Encore

How to Fund Your Encore Career

How to Write a Book

Encore Fellowships

Exploring Your Encore

Professional Services Volunteering

Lifelong Learning

Becoming a Teacher in Your Encore

Navigating the Nonprofit Sector

Your First Volunteer Experience

I sat down at the Becoming a Teacher table where Janet Johnson, Chair of Education at Rio Salado College, part of the Maricopa County Community College system here in Phoenix, reviewed Rio Salado’s online program for earning teacher certification in Arizona. At a cost of $5,000, a person with a BA/BS can earn teacher certification using all online coursework, with student teaching experiences coordinated through the college. Upon completion of this program and passing the appropriate Arizona State subject content exam, you’re certified to teach in any public school in the state. Other states have similar programs, no doubt, although Rio Salado’s completely online approach may be leading the way in making it easy for Boomers to do the work at their own speed without hauling themselves onto a campus setting several days a week.

Demand for teachers, mostly in math and science, is high, with over 2 million teachers, mostly Boomers, expected to retire nationwide each year. In this case Encoring Boomers will be replacing retiring Boomers, whose own Encores will apparently have to find other socially beneficial endeavors. Or, possibly, having spent a working life in socially beneficial employment, retiring teachers will enjoy more golf and travel. (Just kidding.) For those interested in teaching, but unwilling to commit the time and money to state certification, Ms. Johnson explained that Charter Schools and Private schools don’t require a state teaching certificate.

Although I passed on a second breakout session, I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth for the evening. My $25 admission fee included a copy of The Encore Career Handbook, which I have reviewed here separately, and I found the entire program to be enjoyable and informative.

I don’t think there’s any question that Boomers will adapt the concept of retirement to their needs and self-image, although I doubt they’ll discard it entirely. Encore.org itself is very Boomer in its mission and its self image, at once a bit self-important and somewhat over-reaching. Boomers have always been big on movements, and some can’t help using the phrase “change the world” far too often to be mistaken for anything like mature humility.

But that doesn’t diminish the value of the Encore “movement.” Surely there are many people approaching retirement or burn-out or empty nest status or any number of life’s turning points, and who would appreciate some organized help and support to consider socially beneficial outlets for their energy and creativity. What percentage of such persons will finally lean towards Encorism, is yet to be seen. I can’t imagine there are enough Encore opportunities to soak up a very large percentage today, and I don’t see that changing rapidly or soon, although such immediate and rapid change is certainly Encore.org’s mission.

Two things bother me about Encorism. One is the narrow definition of “social good.” If, as Marc Freedman asserts, Encorists will address their valuable skills and experience “…to help solve society’s greatest challenges, from education to the environment, health care to homelessness,” why has he been so narrow in defining which endeavors qualify? It seems to me that any business that provides employment, training, benefits and potential for advancement feeds the social good. People improve their lives, their families’ lives, and their communities through gainful employment. If my Encore involves starting a business that offers such employment, I’ve already made a contribution to the social good. Doesn’t that count? Of course it does. (So don’t despair, CEOwners. You’re changing the world, too.)

The second thing that bothers me is the implied judgment. Boomers have put in their time, paid their taxes and saved something for retirement. Who says they have to have a socially beneficial second act? What if they just want to travel, read, spend time with their kids and grandkids, hang out with old friends, play golf, fish, learn a second language, write a book? Encorism argues that we can’t really be happy wasting our Encore years idling away the time in such unimportant ways. Self-fulfillment must involve “giving back,” another concept used to nudge us in the correct direction.

There is also the implication that we somehow haven’t paid our way and are about to become leeches on the body public. If we’re not changing the world, we’re derelict and refusing to be all that we can be. I don’t buy it. And I think it will be a tough sell to a whole lot of us finding our way through our Encore years. Nonetheless, I’m all for Encore’s success. It can’t hurt, and it will surely help. For many, it will be a perfect fit. The world can always use more Benefactors.

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