Want a New Career? Take an Encore

Second careers can be fulfilling, but they present big challenges, too.
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Bob Williams spent two decades climbing the ladder at Square D, an electrical equipment company based in Illinois, before he retired as vice president at the age of 41.

But the young engineer-turned-executive wasn't done working. He picked up his bundles of cash and bought a shop in Matthews, N.C., that sells baseball cards, comic books and sports memorabilia.

"It's the old work-hard, play-hard idea," he says.

While his position at Square D was fulfilling in its own right, Williams found himself constantly on the road with no quality time to spend with his family. He started collecting cards with his children -- a son, now 23, and a daughter, now 25 -- as a hobby, and parlayed that hobby into a new career when he left Square D in 1996.

"I had the greatest job in the world and was grossly overpaid," he says. "But there was a lot of stress associated with the high-profile job. With as much travel as I was doing, I just wanted to spend time with my family."

Williams is not alone. A recent study by


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and Civic Ventures, a group dedicated to Baby Boomer issues, found that at least 5.3 million Americans have already launched such "encore careers," which combine income and self-fulfillment. Of workers ages 44 to 70 who are not already in encore careers, half are interested in pursuing one. Most encore jobs fall into the education, health care or nonprofit sectors.

While a large majority of those pursuing encore careers reported feeling satisfied and seeing the positive results of their work, there are some concerns to take into account when considering such a drastic change. Changing one's mindset from corporate profits to altruism is not without its kinks.

While a CEO and a soup-kitchen administrator both have a great deal of responsibility and oversee a large staff, there are stark differences in skill-set, mindset, wages and status. The second-phase career often requires additional training and comes with more hands-on work.

"In one of the three business units I ran, I had engineers and designers and sales people and marketing people and production people and manufacturing people," says Williams. "Here, I'm my own janitor, my own salesperson, my own attorney."

New Tricks

While Williams insists he was happy to tackle the new hurdles, 41% of those in encore careers say that learning new technologies and skills or returning to school for certification presented a challenge. About one-third said they are struggling with the loss of seniority or status.

"When you're in the game you think, 'Wouldn't it be fabulous to be on the sidelines for a little while?'" says John Gomperts, president of Civic Ventures. "And when you're on the sidelines for a little while, you start thinking, 'Gosh, I'd like to be back in the game.' The grass is always greener."

Gomperts suggests looking at the new technologies and skills as an opportunity rather than a negative barrier. Taking a hiatus between the hustle of the corporate world and the new challenges of the encore career can also be helpful.

"Leaving the hurly-burly of a big national company on Friday and then arriving on Monday at a nonprofit would make somebody's head spin -- no matter what age or stage of life they're in," Gomperts says.

Second Life

Stephen K. Orr, a onetime investment banker at

Goldman Sachs

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, handled that challenge in a unique way. Orr left that role at Goldman in 1991 to help with a youth mentoring program the firm was setting up. The transition was somewhat of a culture shock, and Orr spent a lot of time visiting charities and nonprofits in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles to become more familiar with how they operate.

"I got tired of just doing deals and making money through transactional events on Wall Street," says Orr, who is now 55. "I loved it, but it ends up losing a lot of its meaning. What I'm doing now is incredibly meaningful."

Orr discovered that his talents didn't lie in reading books with children or playing pickup games in the schoolyard. But, he was able to build a successful nonprofit structure, raise funds and recruit executives to join a group's board.

In light of that, Orr transitioned from the Goldman youth group to start a nonprofit called Youth, I.N.C., which researches small youth charities in New York -- a task Orr refers to as "due diligence." The group chooses a handful of nonprofits, then helps them raise funds, recruit board members and run their operations more efficiently. It also teaches Wall Street executives how to get involved in charities and how those boards of directors differ from corporate boards.

"It's a capacity-building organization that uses the skills I acquired on Wall Street," says Orr.

Perhaps the best advice for Boomers interested in encore careers is to choose an issue that is interesting, challenging and evokes passion -- then stick with it. Be committed to the cause and accommodating to the new circumstances.

"You decide malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is your cause," Gomperts says. "Well, if you're really committed, then the cause is more important than the circumstances of the organization in which you work. That accommodating quality and the commitment are likely to be very, very, very powerful in making it a good transition and a good experience."