Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Encore careers and entrepreneurship

By Karen Sanders, encore innovation fellow at the Brown School

Americans love the entrepreneurial spirit. Many imagine that entrepreneur as young, wildly energetic, sparking on a great idea, without a lot to lose other than a bit of time or a handful of someone else’s venture capital. The implication is that youth and limitless tolerance for risk are essential to entrepreneurial success. That’s a dysfunctional myth.

A study by the Kaufman Foundation revealed that twice as many US-born successful tech founders were older than fifty as were younger than twenty five. Additionally, they found the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55- to 64-year-old age group. Whether you find yourself thinking about entrepreneurship at this age by intention or necessity, there are lots of good reasons to do so.

Your Assets

No, not your 401K. Your career and life stage have deposited upon you a wealth of experience and a valuable network—both personal and professional. You’ve earned your degree in the school of life. Juggling the demands of family and career, dealing with a broad range of people and personalities, succeeding against a variety of challenges, learning from your failures, has been distilled into wisdom.

Dan Palotta’s blog post in the Harvard Business Review, The Value of People Over 50, provides a spot-on, and very funny, take on what that wisdom can mean to a business, clients and customers. Turn that wisdom and your network into a consultancy or start a social impact effort and make your community, or perhaps the world, a better place.

Your Health

We’re in a longevity revolution. Life expectancy in this country has increased thirty years since the beginning of the last century. Boomers are moving into later life healthier than any past generation. Given that “riding the recliner” isn’t a health strategy and there’s only so much golf you can play, consider the health benefits of work. A study published in 2006 by the National Bureau of Economic research found complete retirement led to difficulties with mobility and daily activities, illnesses, and a decline in mental health. They also found that continuing to work part time during retirement mitigated these adverse effects.

Your Mind

Often, as we approach the end of our primary careers, we’re struck by strong, complex feelings about our legacy and what opportunities and challenges the transition to retirement will present. The Boomer generation, as it has with every life stage it has entered, is redefining retirement. Creating a business in your 50s or 60s can be a great way to reconnect with your passions.  It’s also a solid strategy to create a sense of purpose and meaning to bridge you into, and through, your “retirement” years.

Your Social Life

Work provides us with lots of casual opportunities to socialize. Birthday celebrations, lunches with clients, happy hours with the project team, even those impromptu hallway moments feed our need to engage with others. Outside of work, it may require greater intention and effort to meet those needs. Working part time or creating your own business expands your social contact opportunities. Connecting with people who are just as passionate as you are about an issue is a strong basis for building new, lasting friendships.

Your World

Marc Freedman, a member of the Brown School’s National Council, founded in 1997 to advance the idea of leveraging the skills and talents of experienced adults to improve communities and the world. awards the annual $100,000 Purpose Prize to social innovators in the second half of life.

He writes, “When the Purpose Prize was launched . . . there was great anxiety about whether we’d be able to find five qualified social innovators, people over 60 whose work was really making a difference. That first year 1,200 nominations flowed in, and we faced the opposite problem. We scrambled to create dozens of Purpose Prize fellowships simply to honor the top five percent of the nominees.”

Here’s a sample of people and ideas making a difference:

  • A former TV journalist who used her investigative skills to create a website that helps consumers understand complicated issues and avoid scams.
  • A two-time cancer survivor who teaches healthy cooking to people who, like her, have been touched by cancer.
  • A retired Navy Captain helping disabled soldiers and veterans heal from the physical, mental and emotional toll of war through fly fishing.
  • A former corrections officer using traditional African rites of passage to help young African-Americans avoid jail and teen pregnancy.
  • A telecom exec who created a global network of therapeutic riding centers serving children with disabilities – free of charge.

What’s your idea? Could you be a future Purpose Prize winner?

Next Move

The Brown School is launching several new programs as part of its Next Move initiative that are designed to help you navigate the choices you’ll encounter as you embrace opportunities in this stage of life. One program, “Who Am I Beyond My Job?” explores both the psychosocial and practical aspects of staying connected with who we are and how we want to live. It supports the periodic reflection needed to be true to ourselves and lead fulfilling lives.

Another offering, “Exploring Your Encore Career,” is designed for those who are looking ahead and wondering what their life’s next act—their “encore”—could be.  It explores what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and the nonprofit landscape. It also enables exploration of other options for staying engaged, keeping sharp and remaining productive in work that ignites your passions and gives back.

Read more about Next Move at the Brown School.