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A Better You for a Better World

To launch your second act, figure out how your skills can help fix a problem of particular concern 

By Marci Alboher and

A few weeks ago, I was asked to go on the Today show to talk about second acts. That got me thinking.

What Makes a Second Act Successful?

The standard notion regarding making big changes at midlife is that they start with an itch for something better: a better job, a better spouse, a better face, a better whatever-it-is-you’re-missing. But after talking to hundreds of people who’ve actually reinvented themselves, I’m now convinced that the most successful second (and third) acts are motivated by an urge to fix something that’s broken — in your community or beyond.

In other words, they’re as much about making a better world as about creating a better version of you.

(MORE: Where to Get Help Launching Your Encore Careers)

I encourage people to find their second acts by starting small and exploring the intersection of what they have or know and what the world needs.

The adage that with experience comes wisdom could not be more true. So if you’re searching for your next act, focus on the stuff that improves with age: empathy, wisdom, deep social networks, emotional stability as well as the ability to lead, mentor and coach.

Volunteering As a Gateway

All kinds of research supports the idea that doing good feels good; that helping others is the easiest way to infuse your life with purpose. That’s why volunteering by “giving yourself away” can be a great gateway to a meaningful second act. A few recent studies have shown that volunteering can also lead to finding paid work that you’ll feel good about.

If you’ve been out of the job market for a while — perhaps you took some time out to raise your kids or to care for a loved one — you may be trying to figure out whether you can ultimately transition back to paid work that could help make the world a better place.

Yes, you can! You just need to start talking about the kinds of things you’ve been doing as “work.”

(MORE: Words of Wisdom to Anyone Eager to Start an Encore Career)

Turning Your Expertise Into a Job

Ask yourself questions like these to help frame things:

  • What have I done as a volunteer or fundraiser?
  • What does everyone come to me for: advice on learning issues? How to be a caregiver?
  • What have I seen in my community that needs fixing, and what ideas do I have to accomplish this?

Once you’ve responded to these types of questions, the answers can help beef up your LinkedIn profile — use the volunteer and causes section to highlight your experience.


And practice telling your story to your partner or a close friend by emphasizing these ideas.

(MORE: Profiles in Volunteering: Teaching English to Immigrants)

In Midlife, Learning is Essential

Another tip: Don't run away from the idea of learning new things.

You may not need to go back to school in the traditional sense, but why not give yourself a skills makeover?

We all need to stay current to insure that we can continue being useful in today's competitive job market. Online learning, certificate programs, conferences and seminars, even hiring a tutor or bartering your skills with someone who can teach you something you need to learn are all great ways to become more knowledgeable in midlife.

Pursue Internships and Fellowships

I mentioned that volunteering can lead to paid work. So could the kind of on-the job training you get from an internship or a fellowship.

At, where I work, we offer Encore Fellowships, structured programs that place experienced, highly skilled professionals at the end of their midlife careers into social-purpose organizations, where they help nonprofits have a broader impact on their communities. You might want to apply for one.

We also have links to job boards for paid and unpaid positions at nonprofits and in government, as well as in the fields of health, education and the environment.

Ready for your second act? Find a way to help make the world a better place, and you’ll wind up with a better you too.

Marci Alboher, a Vice President of, is the author of The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life, published by Workman Publishing. Follow her on Twitter at @heymarci.  Read More
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