Encore: An Essay

It’s Monday afternoon.  Light snow flurries are blowing as the temperature drops again.  Lately, we’ve been on a rollercoaster of Chinook winds bringing warmth and melt, and then a sudden plunge to twenty below or more.  Once again that flat, white, cocoon-like light has me happy being here, appreciating I won’t be negotiating the now icy roads and soon-to-be homebound rush hour.

I’d just been power-napping for a few minutes (a talent I learned from my father), needing a restorative after composing a well-considered email to the superintendent, to request a conversation regarding my concerns for the safety and well-being of my colleagues…my response to the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.  Over the last month or so, in conversation with principals who are my friends, I’d heard their stories of being frightened – for their wellbeing, and-or lives – by parents and people in the community.  These conversations on the heels of that school shooting was, as I realized writing my last post, a worst nightmare come true for me, because I knew once again, as I had for several years, “there but for the grace of God go we.”

Hmmm, an encore perhaps, given I’d rung that bell several times before.  But what I really meant by “encore,” is how I’ve come to frame this part of my life – my “what next.”

thOver Christmas I was inspired to open my Kindle, having gifted The Scientist with one in anticipation of our traveling later this spring.  I began reading a book I’d downloaded many months ago.  Called ENCORE: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, author Marc Freedman describes the emergence of a new life stage, in response to the global unsustainability of the “freedom 55,” leisure-filled golden years of retirement and the heartfelt desire many of us have, now with the freedom, time and resources, to choose work that really matters to us and the world.  No sooner had I read the book, when I saw over the course of a single week, several headlines on my FlipBoard app speaking to just this reality.

While very Americans in its statistics and orientation, much of it reads well for us here in Canada.  I’m quite jazzed by it, and it’s striking a chord when I mention it.  So I’m going to quote a bit for a fuller context.

Retirement was a social-economic-political response to several complex realities converging in the late forties and fifties – sudden poverty in the aftermath of work that precipitated unions successfully bargaining for company pensions, returning war vets needing employment, the baby boom, access to more education, medicare.

“Retirement became the great national repository of deferred gratification…paying them to leave helped make way for the baby boom of younger, lower paid employees.”

“Wizards of financial services and consumer marketing defined a compelling vision for retirement, that went beyond economic security and extended lifespans… the pressure was building as the numbers of these individuals – consigned to protracted uselessness and loath to think about the grim era between work and death – grew larger and the period of roleless roles more protracted.“

Freedman, as others, pinpoints developer Delbert E. Webb as having been responsible for the “golden years” ideology becoming reality – with the opening on January 1, 1960 of his Sun City, Arizona, the first American retirement living community.  One hundred thousand Americans lined up to purchase a piece of heaven on earth.

In talking with my father about my new found “frame” – much more satisfying than “pretend retirement”, the best I had at the time, though I always felt awkward using the word – he totally got it, not only from the financial standpoint, but as importantly, from the perspective of intellectual capital and worth.  “How can it be that people at the top of their game, with experience, knowledge and wisdom retire, leaving a void, and we support that?”  He’d witnessed enough of his friends bewildered, trying to figure out their next steps, while drinking coffee and holding court most week day mornings at the local Tim Horton’s.

“The important story is that something new is being invented.  We are in the midst of fashioning a new stage of life between traditional midlife years and careers, and true retirement and old age.  It is a development that is distinct, significant,, and historic.  It is a mistake to see it as more of midlife as we know it, an updated version of retirement, or the new old age…It is big: as long as midlife and decades in duration.  And it is uncertain.”

While there is a swelling impetus for “something new,” we’re not the first generation to continue to thrive in careers well past our mid fifties and sixties.  In his early eighties, Pappa works a day a week, mentoring the employee who purchased his company several years’ back.  He never used the word “retired,” nor my father-in-law, a farm machinery mechanic, who until recently was still “on call” to do emergency repairs during planting and harvest.

“As the accumulated experience of individuals begins to reach a critical mass, it is possible to both discern patterns and insights that both help to define the emerging shape of this new phase of work and provide some guidance to those contemplating their own encore career.”

Body of Work – Freedman clarifies that an encore career is NOT a retirement job.  It’s not a transitional phase.  Nor is it a bridge between the end of real work and the beginning of real leisure.  It could encompass a collection of assignments, opportunities, and engagements that have a “weight and coherence,” that when taken together constitute a true body of work.  This evokes Mary Catherine Bateson’s notion of composing a life, a particular way of being for women.

Practical Idealism – Blending clear-eyed pragmatism and the determination to make a better world, encore careers are especially suited to a generation that has had experience innovating social, political change and making things work on a global scale.  It’s been defined by some as a “new model of work at the intersection of passion, purpose and profits.”

An Extra Measure of Freedom – The encore career represents a new formulation – the commitment to productivity and making a contribution, with the freedom to choose how we spend our time.  A pension combined with even modest compensation makes it possible to do work that matters rather than work that pays.

Jumping the Gun – Longevity plus finishing first careers earlier is creating this new life stage, so it pays to be proactive, working on the assumption the likelihood of a second, even third career.

Personally, I began planning for this possibility eight years ago when I began paying into my deferred salary plan.  I’d always dreamed of using that time to paint and travel alone in Europe, knowing both these experiences, if realized, would somehow catalyze deeper changes.  When I decided to defer the taking of my leave by a year, it was in response to sensing a shifting landscape at work, wherein I knew I was and could meet my contractual obligation for one year, but wasn’t certain I could go beyond that.  When I purchased my current car four years ago, I made sure the payments would conclude last May, just in case.

 “Most encore pioneers are not waiting until sixty-five to launch this new phase, submitting earlier to that voice that says that one career has run its course and it is time to look for something different and more meaningful.”

Realism Not Reinvention – “We remain the people we were even as the trappings change.”  While setting the intention to be delightfully surprised, my experience corresponds.  Most of my current work now invites me to use the talents and skills I’ve honed over the decades, now working in new contexts with new partners.  So I’m sufficiently challenged at the same time as being jazzed.  I’m curious and creatively taking risks to develop new skills, such as the eLearning courses, and experimenting in a change lab for the non profit sector.

Connections Matter – Purposeful relationships that support, sustain and enliven are as important as the work.  Multigenerational conversations and mentoring feature prominently on my horizon as I’ve been invited to co-host the first of series of conversations among women leaders spanning the generations.

Managing Oneself

“For the first time, substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices.  For the first time, they will have to manage themselves…we wil have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a fifty year working life which will mean knowing how and when to change the work we do…That is why managing oneself increasingly leads one to begin a second career.”  Peter Drucker, 1999

Hmmm, an encore.  Brava!

About Katharine Weinmann

living and leading with courage, clarity, compassion and creativity
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6 Responses to Encore: An Essay

  1. Terri Blair Maracle says:

    This post is dated January 28th…..today is April 2nd……hhmmmm…..

  2. Georgia says:

    Hello Katherine,
    I was so glad to get your post. You are always inspiring, pushing the boundaries, exploring and speculating. Such a gift to all of us! And this stage of life requires as much thought as we put into creating our first careers….
    A friend and I were talking before Christmas about the meaning of retirement and what to do with it; I said she and I were not alone, and we should plan a supper in the new year to have a round table of women to discuss this. Another friend here is now two years past a teaching career and, while enjoying the freedom tremendously, is also wondering about What Next?
    A long preamble. How would you like to come for a supper and a discussion with these and some other women?

    • Dear Georgia,
      You’ve been in my thoughts in the last few weeks and so your comment such a lovely affirmation of our connection from afar. Would love to come for supper, conversation and winter fun. An email to follow….

  3. Kathy says:

    Great post. Thoughtful and research-based and providing much food for thought for others considering navigating this path. Thank you my friend for once again sharing your wisdom from the journey so that others can learn with and from you and be inspired on their journey. kathy

    • Thank YOU, Kathy. With your academic research background, I appreciate your comments. A different approach for me here, yet given the curiosity when I speak about “my encore”, you’re right, I wanted to provide touchstones for an emerging possibility.

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