What is the key to crafting a meaningful encore in your worklife? Do you need to be an extraordinary person with exceptional resources motivated by a desire to change the world after closing out your first career? Or is some kind of a second act for the greater good available to us all once we hit our 50s or 60s?
Those were the key questions I hoped to answer while attending the Encore 2014 conference of 500 encore leaders held recently in Tempe, Ariz., hosted by Encore.org.
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Encore Paths for All
I’m pleased to report that I got my answers and especially because I returned home convinced that there are a wide variety of encore paths open to everyone — the extraordinary and ordinary alike. I’ll show you how to begin finding yours momentarily.
The conference’s opening evening featured the six remarkable recipients of The Purpose Prize, innovators over 60 working to advance the social good. As I listened to their stories, I alternated between being in awe and feeling intimidated. Nothing I’ve ever done, or even dream of doing, comes close to what these women and men have achieved.
But as the conference rolled on and I heard from, and met, people who’ve found different ways to give back, I began to reframe my thinking of what an encore can look like. I was especially struck by the words of conference keynoter Nicholas Kristof (a Pulitizer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and co-author of A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity), who said: “I’m a big believer in drops in the bucket. “Over time those drops really do begin to fill up the bucket.”
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Putting Your Passions to Use
That’s a great metaphor and it brings me back to the key to finding a meaningful encore: Don’t be intimidated by the superachievers. Instead, think about the skills, passions, expertise and spheres of influence you have and how they can best be put to use in a way that matters to you.
- If you’ve worked as a teacher, you might find that tutoring struggling readers (for pay or on a volunteer basis) could prove an encore calling.
- If you’ve been a successful executive, you might offer workshops, coaching or mentoring to young entrepreneurs in struggling urban areas.
- If you’re a talented writer, you could build a blog or write a book on an important social issue.
- If you’re a jewelry maker, maybe you could be inspired to design a line of bracelets featuring inspirational messages for people dealing with cancer — or donate a percentage of your sales to a cause you’re passionate about.
Even if you’re still working, and only have a few hours to volunteer each month, you can find a way to start to build your encore.
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As Richard Eisenberg noted in his Next Avenue post about the 2014 Purpose Prize recipients, both of this year’s $100,000 winners — former business execs David Campbell, of All Hands Volunteers and Charles Fletcher, of SpiritHorse International — began their encore work as unpaid volunteers.
Useful Resources to Get Started
Finding your best encore path may take experimentation and some time. But if you’re willing to explore, there are lots of resources available to help you get started. Some to consider:
Take a look at sites like Encore.org, Idealist.org and Bridgespan.org. They have links to part-time and full-time nonprofit job listings, as well as training programs, advice and event listings.
Read Kristof's A Path Appears and The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher. They’ll give you ideas on how to create a meaningful encore.
Check out AARP’s LifeReimagined.org for ways to test drive your encore job. Personal finance journalist and AARP Financial Ambassador Jean Chatzky says the site “offers personalized tools and programs to help you reflect, connect and gradually test your passions as you transition to that next step.”
Monitor the online LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace. There, you’ll discover nonprofits offering paid staff positions, volunteer jobs and board positions. One of those might be a perfect way to dip your toes into the encore waters.
A Goal Worth Pursuing
Just remember: while building meaning into your second act won’t always be easy, it’s a goal worth pursuing. As Kristof reminded the Encore 2014: audience: “Helping people is harder than it looks. And yet, every now and then, if you’re willing to take a risk, you can have a truly transformative impact in ways that ripple out to other people.”