Tene Wells didn’t expect to lose her job at age 56 in 2009. She was the decade-long president of WomenVenture, a nonprofit in St. Paul, Minn., that offers business expertise and consulting services to women-owned enterprises. But economic times were tough all over back then.
When Wells suddenly had to depart, she decided she needed to get away to grieve and clear her head. Fortunately, a friend in Seattle came to the rescue. Wells’ pal handed her the keys to her car and home, said there was plenty of wine in the house and noted that she’d be back in several weeks.
Wells read, relaxed and thought about what her encore career might be – the type of meaningful work people increasingly do in the second half of their lives to bring in income and serve the greater good.
How Your Friends Can Direct You
Wells ultimately settled on becoming a social entrepreneur, bringing her business skills to bear on an issue involving enterprise, women and poverty. Upon returning to the Twin Cities, she tested out various ideas with friends and acquaintances. “I used the wealth of contacts I had built,” Wells says. “I met lots of people for coffee.”
(MORE: A Manual for Encore Careers)
Today, she’s a Bush Foundation fellow, part of a two-year program largely focused on developing leadership skills. Her social venture exploration led Wells to realize that she wants to write, teach and bring others income-generating opportunities to break the cycle of poverty — perhaps, she says, becoming “the Suze Orman for poor people.”
I learned about Wells’ story while moderating a fascinating panel on encore careers last month. The other participants were Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook: Making a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life; social entrepreneur Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library (small, handcrafted book exchanges in neighborhoods around the United States and abroad) and Jodi Harpstead, a 23-year veteran of the medical device company Medtronic and currently chief executive at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
Networking Into an Encore Career
What stood out during the event was the importance the panelists placed on the power of conversation to launch and grow an encore career.
Like Wells, the other speakers said their networks of family, friends, colleagues, mentors and local experts helped with their transitions, especially during the inevitable dark days and weeks of doubt.
All the panelists said they stumbled trying to find their next path, changed their minds, confronted setbacks and continually returned to their encore sherpas for feedback and support.
“Boomers are asking themselves, ‘Now what? What do I want to do before I die?’” says Debbie Durham, project manager at Life by Design NW, a nonprofit in Portland, Ore., that assists people with midlife transitions. “There’s no quick answer. It’s an ongoing process that takes time.”
The Burgeoning Industry of Encore Advisers
If you’re in your 50s or 60s and toying with the prospect of an encore career, you’ve probably built up a reasonably rich network to tap. (Yes, there are advantages to aging.) The people in this network know you, some extremely well. They can help you dream big and encourage you to pursue a long talked-about goal. They can also provide a handy dose of common sense.
(MORE: How to Create a Career Transitions Group for Women)
But you don’t need to rely solely on your network for advice. There’s a whole industry emerging that's dedicated to helping you figure out what to do next.
Call it the work-tirement, job-tirement, encore career or next chapter industry, almost every city is fast becoming a hotbed of advice targeted at older workers looking for more meaning in their lives.
The experts include career coaches, lifestyle consultants, recruiting agencies, temp firms and social ventures. Many encore programs have forged partnerships with state and local governments, community colleges and other nonprofits.
Where to Find Pros Who Can Help You
If you’re thinking about an encore career, you should start looking for these pros. “People feel as though they have come to this moment on their own and that they’re the only ones who have ever thought of changing careers," says Doug Dickson, president of Discovering What's Next, an organization based in Newton, Mass., that assists people with life and work issues after 50. "Very often they will say to us, ‘This is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to connect with people who are like-minded.’”
A great place to begin is the Encore.org site, a leader in the work-tirement ecosystem. It features a directory of local organization resources and a calendar of local encore career events.
Women might look into the Transition Network, which focuses on encore opportunities for professional women 50 and over and has a dozen chapters across the country.
The nonprofit ReServe matches 55-plus professionals in seven parts of the country with nonprofit organizations, public institutions and government agencies that need their expertise. Its encore professionals typically work 10 to 20 hours a week and receive a small stipend.
(MORE: 4 Ways to Bridge the Gap to an Encore Career)
A Wealth of Local Experts
Don’t forget to look for encore experts where you live. For instance, Life by Design NW, housed at Portland Community College, offers a six-week course to help boomers take control of their transitions.
One place worth checking out: your local Small Business Development Center. There are approximately 1,000 of them housed in colleges and universities around the country. They serve small businesses primarily, but will know about other nearby encore resources.
You might also get in touch with one of the approximately 600 Workforce Investment Boards throughout the country. These groups connect local workforce development and job training programs with area employers. Ask a staffer at your Workforce Investment Board if he or she is aware of any encore programs in town.
Meet Others Like You in a College Class
Community colleges are another rich information lode for anyone eager to have an encore career. The Encore.org site has a list of schools with appropriate classes. There’s also a nationwide community-college program called Plus 50, geared to students over 50 who want to switch careers. Enroll in one of these courses and pretty soon you’ll be connected to a group of like-minded people your age who are trying to pursue their encore lives.
Remember the opening lyrics to the Buffalo Springfield song, "For What It’s Worth": “There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.” Those lines could be the mantra of the emerging encore industry.
Something is happening. What will evolve isn’t exactly clear. But there’s undoubtedly a mushrooming of formal and informal networks offering support, feedback and information to people plotting the next chapters of their lives. Plug in.