Next Avenue Logo

How I Found My Encore Career (and Why You Should)

A former nonprofit exec transitioned into an executive coach

By Judy Nelson

Why would anyone want to work after retiring from a full-time job?

It’s a question I have been asked many times, since it’s something I’ve done. My usual response: Why would anyone not? Working in my encore career after retiring from my first career has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
And I think you should find an encore career when you’re ready, too.

Goodbye to the 3-Hour Commute
Here’s my story: My plan had been to continue working as a leader of nonprofit organizations until I dropped dead at my desk.
(MORE: Barriers to Encore Careers Are Falling)

Then, one morning in the spring of 2006 at the age of 63, I was facing yet another three-hour commute to my job as CEO for a nonprofit serving abused and neglected children and their families. It was the same drive I had taken for 30 years.
All of a sudden, I put my hand on the car door and froze. I knew then and there that I could not make that commute ever again.

I called my husband and said, “You know that plan for me to work forever?”

“Yes,” he said.

“I just resigned, and am now unemployed.”

“Whatever makes you happy, sweetie.”

That night, he brought home a baby blue Thunderbird convertible.

I said, “You do understand that ‘unemployed’ means I bring in no money, right?”

“I just want you to be happy,” he said again, with a grin.
(MORE: Help for Launching Your Encore Career)

Mixed Feelings About Ending a Career
The blue Thunderbird notwithstanding, my husband supported my decision. I don’t think I could have done it if he hadn’t. Support is critical when you are taking a giant leap such as quitting your day job.

The day I left the organization I’d led for 11 years, and the profession I’d been active in for over three decades, I had mixed feelings.
The first was sheer, joyous relief. It was not only the end of the tedious commute but also the end of panicking when the phone rang late at night, fearing that a child might have died or been seriously injured.

Not everything about leaving my job was easy, however. It was clear that I would miss the relationships with the children who lived on our campus. I also knew that I would miss the wonderful employees I worked with.
(MORE: Plotting Your Next Move for Unretirement)

For the first four weeks of my retirement, I did anything but think about work. I spent time on vacation, at the beach and with friends. I also started searching the web for anything that interested me.
Finding My Encore Career
Suddenly, I realized that I had started searching for, and responding to, things on the web to executives, professional development, and CEO effectiveness. I tried to limit my searches but always drifted back.

It wasn’t long before I became…well, bored.

I missed work. I didn’t miss the stress, the three-hour commute, the headaches, the bureaucracy, the impossible regulations and everything else that were part of my previous job. I missed working.


It quickly became clear that I wanted to work, but the idea of applying for another job made me cross-eyed.

The options? Only one: Start my own business.

For the next two to three weeks, I searched the web for information on starting a business. I found many great resources; in fact, I found so many that I soon became overwhelmed. Meanwhile, I still had no idea what type of business I wanted to start.

As time passed, a few things became clear. Whatever I did had to be related to helping executives —especially those leading nonprofits —develop professionally and personally.

After searching the web, reading management books and talking to my husband, I stumbled across something called “executive coaching.”

The more I explored coaching and executive coaching, the more the terminology and descriptions sounded familiar. Eventually, it dawned on me that for 30 years, I had been an unofficial coach myself.

With executive coaching in mind, I began to hone in on who I wanted to coach and how I’d go about it. I compiled and reviewed the contacts from my career and realized I had many who might be great referral sources.

Working When and Where I Want
In April 2006, I hung out my shingle and began my encore career as an executive coach. These days, I choose when I work, where I work and with whom I work.

Having an encore career is fun. It’s stimulating, interesting, and filled with possibilities to make a positive contribution to the lives of others. Those were the same reasons I loved my previous work, only this time without the stress.

The journey towards your encore career probably won’t be the same as mine, but it can be a wonderful chance to rediscover what you love to do. An encore career gives you a chance to do what you always dreamed of when you were staring at taillights during your commute all those years. It gives you a chance to make that someday happen today.

So go ahead; come back on stage for that one final number.
Judy Nelson is a certified executive coach, consultant and motivational speaker. You can learn more about her at

Judy Nelson is a certified executive coach, consultant and motivational speaker. You can learn more about her at Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo