Living to age 70, 80 or even 90 is no longer the exception. While many would have considered themselves lucky to reach these milestone ages in the past, it is quickly becoming the norm. With advancements in health care and socio-economics, the population over age 65 will represent one out of every four Americans by 2020.
A staggering 10,000 Baby Boomers turn age 65 every day and that pace is set to continue over the next decade. Add to that the reduction in birthrates and this redistribution of the population that some see as a problem actually could be an opportunity. As an optimist, I believe it is not only an opportunity but a wonderful gift.
How many times have you said or heard that “it’s great to be young”? On the flip side, have you ever heard “it’s great to be old”? Why isn’t society embracing and celebrating this wonderful gift of longevity? A longer life enables us to add another chapter to our story and gives our generation the time to solve some of society’s most pressing issues.
Traditionally, life followed a pattern of education, full-time employment and full-time retirement. This was the American dream. But for some, full retirement for 20, 30 or more years may not be ideal. Today we have the chance to add a new purpose-focused chapter to life — an Encore chapter that falls between full employment and full retirement, mid-life and old age. This chapter can focus on leveraging the vast pool of talent and experiences accumulated over the years to work on purpose-driven initiatives to make a difference today and into the future.
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This Encore chapter can be authored to fulfill personal goals through continued employment, transitional retirement, second acts. Whatever form it takes. the continued engagement of the Encore population also will contribute to strengthening our economy, our health care system, our educational system and our communities.
Imagine what can be achieved, who can be served and what differences can be made if we, as a society, further value, reward and promote people who possess the assets of wisdom, experience and perception. To start we need to dispel the myth that adults "of a certain age" are the "other" population. Each generation is not an island unto itself. It is not about us vs. them or young vs. old. It is about how to capitalize on the strengths of all generations to create a viable, thriving society.
Boomers, including myself, are the first generation to be given the chance to “unretire.” Post-career, we can apply our talents and experiences to help solve our community’s most demanding priorities. Our generation has been on the forefront of so many societal changes — civil rights, women’s liberation, scientific and technological advancements. Why not add one more? Together, we will make an impact of unprecedented proportion and change society’s perception of aging. What an exciting chapter to add to the legacy of Boomers!
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C. S. Lewis wrote, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” At every age we are faced with a continuum of options that encourage participation in study, work, family, community and leisure. No one, no matter what stage of life they are in, is defined by only one of these life activities.
The well-being of our community is dependent on the strengths and contributions of all its members. The Encore movement is about engaging millions of people in second acts. Second acts will solve our most important community issues: poverty, illiteracy, hunger and unemployment. Can you think of a better way to spend your gift of longevity than working on initiatives that align with your passions and provide purpose? Become part of the movement and help lead the charge by creating your Encore chapter of life.
Jeanne S. Holihan is the Senior Fellow at The Dayton Foundation, and leads the Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative, which connects retired adults with social service organizations. Learn more: www.daytonfoundation.org/delmarencore.html