The annual gathering sponsored by Marc Freedman‘s Encore.org, was a thought-provoking colloquium of ideas and exchanges on the value and the impact of social engagement driven by older leaders. The annual Purpose Prize was awarded to six individuals whose encore careers and their efforts in the social sector are making significant differences in their local communities and beyond.
From global volunteerism to community finance and empowering poor rural kids, to making peace in the classroom, and other initiatives, this year’s Purpose Prize winners were stunning expressions of what intention, innovation and persistence can do when coupled with experience, wisdom and confidence to bring about real change and measurable impact.
As a Boomer whose primary concern is supporting my generation as it struggles to maintain traction beyond the broken promise of “Retirement,” my initial hesitation about Encore.org was that it seems to blow past the real issue of how we can preserve and extend Boomer careers (not just segue into doing social good). How does focusing on the social sector help turn around the limiting corporate mindsets that see our generation as too old, too expensive, and too out of touch to be retained and valued in the workplace?
Well, after three days of meeting and talking with Boomers and elders (and millennials!) of every stripe, I think I’ve got the answer.
If there’s one thing that is clear to anyone who is researching and reporting on our generation, it is that the number one quality that we are seeking in our life and work at this stage is Purpose. As we have grown older, and slain the dragons of career survival, raising and launching children, economic ups and downs, aging parents (and confronting our own mortality), we want every day to count. Even though we may live 10, 20 or 30 years longer than our parents, we’re more aware than ever of the ticking clock.
We grew up in a paradoxical time: threatened every day by the shadow of nuclear cataclysm, but also inspired and galvanized by the civil rights and peace movements. We were energized and inspired by the space program, JFK and Woodstock, but alienated and disillusioned by three assassinations, Vietnam and Watergate.
Now, poised at the cusp of a new life stage, we face a similar quandary. Can we overcome our cynicism about The System, the setbacks from the Recession and the end of Retirement, and use our idealism, work ethic and resourcefulness to reinvent and re-establish ourselves and our value? The Purpose Prize winners demonstrate that our creativity and vision have not faded or ebbed, and I believe that their example represents the strengths of deed and character that will propel us into a renaissance as a generation
Encore careers in the social sector could be the Trojan horse that infiltrates our can-do consciousness into the center of the old-fashioned, bean-countered, values-challenged corporate mindset. The tangible successes of this widening circle of Purpose Prize achievements are not limited to the six winners, but extend also through this year’s 38 Purpose Prize Fellows, to Encore.org’s other flagship program, Encore Fellowships, which has placed hundreds of resourceful individuals in transformational short-term consulting roles in dozens of communities in 15 states over the past 5 years.
This is good news for anyone struggling to extend their careers and lifestyles into this new span of years that has been added to the middle of our lives (not the end of our lives). For JoAnn Jenkins, AARP’s new CEO, and Encore Conference keynote speaker, encore careers are central to what she calls Disruptive Aging – resetting outdated assumptions about older workers, whose seasoned abilities make us better employees, better managers, and better leaders. Our drive to keep going coincides perfectly with the needs of businesses dealing with a faster-paced, increasingly complex world. Shrinking product and development cycles, lower barriers to entry and increased competition will require our perspective and strategies to complement younger, innovative but less experienced talent.
Journalist Chris Farrell, another Encore Conference speaker and the author of the recent book “Unretirement,” points out that keeping Boomers on the job is not a zero-sum game. Boomer jobs do not take away from GenX or Millennial jobs. We are evolving towards a new intergenerational work force where the skills and qualities of each generation will need to work together to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. The encore career movement is the proving ground that is leading us all in that direction.