Gone are the days when we could expect a job to last our entire career. Today, younger generations of employees remain at a job for a few years before moving to new jobs and positions. So, as we get older and closer to retirement, we begin to shift our perspective from our career to our encores. What will be the next chapter? What will our professional life look like in retirement?
Some older adults, who retire or are rendered jobless (as the case with my last job, which was “discontinued”) either still want to work or need to work but we often have to look at different types of work. Many opportunities from the past few decades of our career are simply not available or maybe just too much demand at this stage of our lives.
Mitch is one of my closest friends and has been for almost 30 years. He graduated from law school about 35 years ago. Now, he’s 62 (and eligible for a reverse mortgage). While he was a law student, he clerked for an attorney whose whole practice was representing direct sales companies to ensure that they followed food and drug laws and regulations, and whose sales and marketing practices were not illegal pyramid schemes. When he passed the bar, he went to work for this firm. He continued to work there until May of 2020.
Early this year, right around the time the pandemic hit, he had to begin to think about other work. His boss, the firm’s owner, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Mitch was the only other attorney in the firm, and both Mitch and the bosses’ family decided it was best to wind down and close. Mitch oversaw the shuttering of the business, and at the end of May, for the first time in his adult life – he was unemployed.
Mitch is in a lot better shape than many older adults who have lost their jobs or retired and still need to work. He has a year of severance, so he can survive economically. However, he is not in a position to retire. Now, he is beginning his search for an encore career. He can’t just resume practicing law, as his area of expertise is truly a niche and if he wanted to continue practicing in his field he’d have to relocate, which is not an option. He had begun exploring alternatives to his work a few years ago, as he was getting somewhat tired of working in the firm. He and I discussed working in the field of aging, as I was enrolled in the Gerontology program at Portland Community College (PCC).
At this point in his work-life, my friend is at a crossroads. While effectively practicing law isn’t an option, an encore career is. The career opportunities in aging, including elder law, are wide- open.
Mitch decided to enroll in the Gerontology program at Portland Community College. Through his studies, he may decide to try elder law, or he may choose another career in aging. It doesn’t matter where he ends up, as long as he finds work that he can do, wants to do, and that pays him fairly. And given his skills, abilities, intelligence, and overall demeanor, I strongly believe he will find it.
My story is different.
I haven’t discovered my encore career, nor do I expect to. After a brief and not very happy career as an attorney, I became a warehouseman and served as a union shop steward in the flour mill where I worked. Eventually, my body began to wear down, and I was fortunate to be able to begin what became a 32-year career in organized labor. I worked for a number of unions in various capacities: educator; organizer; labor-community organizer and as a generalist, doing negotiations, grievance handling, and leadership development. However, there was no interest in me, maybe because I was 70, and folks figured I was too old to do the work the way it needs to be done.
Then it hit me: I am old. But, I have a skill set that I could apply to advocate for my peer group.
Perhaps, I could be an elder advocate. I began exploring and found lots of volunteer opportunities. Eventually, I enrolled in the Gerontology program at Portland Community College. Four years later, I have an Associate’s Degree in Gerontology/Aging Studies but still no encore career.
To be totally clear, I loved the program. I learned tons about aging in general and my aging process in particular, plus so many other interesting and valuable things. I got school credit for advocating for older adults who were victims of elder abuse, and other low-income elders. I led “on the ground” organizing on the PCC campus for an end ageism campaign initiated by the Gerontology faculty. All of this provided an exceptional learning experience, but I never figured out how to parlay that into paid advocacy work. I still haven’t found a fit. Many positions that I would have applied to require a social work degree. Also, I’m a lot less motivated than I was while I was a student. I’m wrapping my mind around the concept of retirement, doing a certain amount of grandchild care, writing for this blog, and sort of chilling (but, I don’t think I’ll ever “chill”).
Encore careers are out there for us if we need them or want them badly enough. I know Mitch will find one, hopefully in the field of aging. I probably won’t, unless a part-time advocacy gig appears and it’s right around where I live.
And, if anyone wants an old organizer to do their advocating, I’m available.
– Edward from McMinnville, Oregon, a FAR customer who is finding purpose in this new stage of his life.
Edward writes for FAR and is also a customer. He is 73-year-old, born and raised in and around New York City. After college and a little graduate school, he took Horace Greeley’s advice and went west. Edward lived in several cities throughout California and currently resides in Oregon. He practiced law for a few years as part of a law collective doing what they called “people’s law,” but spent most of his career working as an internal organizer for the unions.
When Edward’s career ended with the unions, he was determined to become an advocate for older adults. He enrolled at Portland Community College studying Gerontology. He learned a lot about aging and how it applied to his own life experiences and my own aging process. Much of Edward’s writing is related to what he learned in his Gerontology studies.
* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Finance of America Reverse (FAR) LLC