Many people over 50 hope to use their later years to make a difference in the world — as volunteers, nonprofit employees or social entrepreneurs. Yet all too often, the path to finding meaningful encore work proves more challenging than expected.
I thought a lot about this while attending Encore 2016, a recent Encore.org gathering of 400+ encore-movement leaders and advocates in San Francisco. It was my second year in attendance, and once again, I was awed by the incredible achievements of the Purpose Prize winners featured at the conference. It was impossible not to be moved. As my editor, Richard Eisenberg wrote in his Next Avenue blog post, The Encore Career Movement Grows Up, “There’s nothing more inspiring that being surrounded by inspiring people.”
But as much as I savored the inspirational infusion, as a career coach, my main goal for the conference was to come home with a few new strategies to help “ordinary” encore seekers get out of the starting gate. People who struggle to answer questions like: Which skills should I use in my encore? How do I choose a cause to support? How can I leverage my expertise and life experiences for maximum impact?
Just because something is a good fit for your skills, values and interests doesn’t necessarily make it a viable encore idea — it must help address an authentic need.
Fortunately, I picked up several interesting ideas from Barbara Greenspan Shaiman, founder of Champions of Caring, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based not-for-profit that empowers youth, and the author of Live Your Legacy Now: 10 Simple Steps to find Your Passion and Change the World during the conference’s Charting Your Encore Journey workshop.
Here are my four favorite takeaways from Shaiman’s presentation and from her book:
1. Use This Formula to Identify an Encore Idea
If you’re struggling to identify the best ways to leverage your skills for the greater good, Shaiman created the following “legacy formula” to help provide clarity:
What you love to do (e.g. write poetry, cook, dance, etc.) + What angers you (e.g. income inequality, global warming, etc.) = Your Legacy Idea
I confess that when I first heard this, it struck me as overly simplistic. But the more stories Shaiman shared at the conference, the more the formula made sense.
For example, Shaiman told us about a woman who uses her love of fashion to design and sell t-shirts that raise awareness and funds for Darfur; a friend who loves golf and uses golf lessons as a forum to mentor inner-city boys and a knitter who, along with other family members, creates blankets for women transitioning out of prison. These individuals have all found unique ways to combine their passions with issues they care about to help change lives for the better.
2. Complete a Personal Skills Inventory
Beyond just thinking about what you like to do, ask yourself what skills you have that are transferable to what you may want to do. Some guiding questions:
- What are the skills that you have acquired through your professional and personal life?
- Which skills do you have that you do not want to focus on?
- What are the skills that you would like to further develop?
Another great question: What’s on your moral bucket list? Shaiman picked up this concept from New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks, author of The Road to Character.
Brooks believes we have two sets of virtues: resumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Resumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace; eulogy virtues are the ones that will be highlighted at your funeral — traits such as whether you were kind, courageous, honest or faithful. Knowing which moral traits you most value can help inform your encore choices.
3. Vet the Idea Before Plowing Ahead
Just because something is a good fit for your skills, values and interests doesn’t necessarily make it a viable encore idea — it must help address an authentic need in the world.
Here are three ways to reality-test your hunches:
- Create a community “walkabout or driveabout.” What do you see that needs improvement? What is missing? Which abundant resources in the community could be shared with those less fortunate?
- Go to the source. If you are passionate about working with a specific group of people, such as teens or older locals, go talk to them. Ask about their needs and dreams. Find out what types of resources and programs they utilize and wish they could.
- Follow stories in the media to learn more about the issues that you are interested in. That will help you see whether there’s a hole to be filled.
4. Form a Legacy Club
Finally, here’s a fun idea, especially if you’re the type of person who finds it difficult to move forward on your own: form a Legacy Club.
A Legacy Club is a group of people (family, friends, colleagues) who come together to use their collective skills and resources to address a local or global cause. Members can choose to focus on one issue for an extended period of time or select a different issue each month or quarter.
As a Legacy Club member, you’ll enjoy a supportive forum for brainstorming ideas, learn about a variety of causes and explore ways to use your skills. That strikes me as a powerful formula for generating possibilities for your encore career, whenever it begins.