"Encore" by Marc Freedman
Tabloid-style headlines have infected even mainstream magazines and newspapers in recent years. Articles about the coming "Social Security Disaster" vie for attention next to those on industry's inability to overcome the "Loss Of Baby Boomer Talent" or even fears that "Baby Boomers Will Retire Into Poverty." And these are not all the ravings of radio talk show hosts trying to build audience share. Experts like the Federal Reserves Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan have aired similar views on occasion.
Now comes author and social entrepreneur Marc Freedman to suggest that such doom and gloom are not necessary. In his new book "Encore", Freedman insists that demography is not destiny. Sub-titled "Finding Work That Matters In The Second Half Of Life", this excellent volume describes a number of alternative futures that could benefit us all. Freedman argues that actions we take today could simultaneously improve the national economy, strengthen our society, and improve the lot of aging Boomers throughout the land:
- For the sake of the economy, he asks that Boomers choose to - and be allowed to - remain productive;
- For the sake of society in general, he encourages Boomers to continue sharing their talents and experience; and
- For the sake of individual Boomers, he recommends changes that will allow them to remain gainfully employed, self-sustaining, and engaged in meaningful roles.
Today individual choices are often limited either to: a) 30 years of mind-numbing TV, golf and shuffleboard in the "Golden Years;" or b) greeting bargain-seekers as glorified doormen in the "Wal-Mart Years." While such retail sector bridge jobs might provide needed sustenance, they do little to maintain self-esteem or to benefit society in general. Freedman shows many ways in which tomorrow could be better than today, through a series of individual portraits of new American pioneers. As he describes them, "Instead of the freedom from work, they are searching for the freedom to work; instead of saving for a 'secure retirement,' they are underwriting an encore career."
So what could Boomers do in Freedman's bold new world? As he shows in his examples, they could:
- Stay on in their current roles instead of retiring, perhaps with more varied schedules or lesser work demands;
- Turn to helping professions such as teaching or nursing, which desperately need staff in many parts of the country;
- Learn and grow into entirely new careers, either in new interest areas or simply in response to changes in the economy; or
- Take on social entrepreneuring activities, much as Freedman has himself, in order to improve the world around us.
He also suggests ways in which today's rules about retirement could be modified, in order to help everyone involved. For example, retirees may now earn additional Social Security benefits by working from age 65 to age 68, but gain nothing more by continuing past that point. Further, they are discouraged from doing so by being forced to pay into Social Security even when they could be receiving payments from it. Similarly, employers are forced to provide equal benefits for all, even if some could be covered by Medicare. Changes to each of these policies, among others, could encourage both employers and employees to rethink today's typical forced-retirement scenarios.
Those facing medical or other issues should certainly be protected by the same options and benefits available today. Others, however, might value the opportunity to continue as productive citizens. Many, in fact, will have no choice but what Freedman calls "the practical necessity of extending working lives" - there's certainly more than a few grains of truth in all of those stories about Boomers not being financially ready to retire. Even those who do have adequate funds might not want to be set out to pasture, however. Leading-edge Boomers today, as a group, are healthier than any such age cohort which has come before them. They are likely to remain physically and mentally able to be productive for ten, twenty or even more years into the future.
Marc Freedman, by the way, does put his own energy where his mouth is. As founder and CEO of San Francisco's Civic Ventures, he has helped establish new activities including the Experience Corps, the Next Chapter, the Lead With Experience Campaign, and the Purpose Prize. You can learn more about these and other new ideas at his website, www.civicventures.org.
His book "Encore" is a clearly-written and exciting vision of an alternative future that we can begin building today. Buy it now and start own encore career!