Marc Freedman kicks off The Big Shift: Navigating The New Stage Beyond Midlife, with a tale of pulling out his newly minted AARP card to score the “senior discount” at the Homewood Suites in Medford, Ore., while requesting two cribs for a room where his 1-year-old son would soon take his first steps.
Freedman, CEO and founder of Civic Ventures, a think tank on Boomers, work and social purpose, had just turned 50, and like many fellow Boomers was facing an identity crisis. He’d been working hard for 25 years, had been through a health crisis, and was tired. At the same time, he surmised he would probably work another 25 years or so in the second half of his adult life.
He was rattled by uneasy questions. “What’s the category for people like me? There are a growing number of us who can be classified as neither-nors. Neither young nor old. Neither retirees nor of traditional parenting age. Tired, perhaps, but neither ready to be retired nor able to afford it.”
In the past, “the fifties and sixties meant retirement, grandparenthood, senior discounts and early bird specials,” he recalls. But with longer, healthier life spans, that’s all changing. “We need a new map of life,” he writes.
Freedman calls this new life stage “the Encore Stage.”
“The surge of people into this new stage of life is one of the most important social phenomena of the new century,” Freedman writes. “Never before have so many people had so much experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it.”
Freedman is a natural storyteller, a deep researcher and a forward thinker. His previous book, Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, struck a chord with Baby Boomers when it came out a few years ago and started the conversation.
This time, he’s banging the drum for deep-seated social and cultural change, and this time it has a personal tinge. At fiftysomething, he is one with his audience. “We’re not talking about a small segment of the population spending a few years off balance, muddling though. This group constitutes what may be the largest group in society, entering a period that could approximate half their adult lives.”
His vision: “As we confront significant challenges in areas like education, the environment and health care, this windfall of talent could help carry us toward a new generation of solutions.”
Freedman’s passion for this emerging stage of aging is palpable. He delves into the work of those who have gone before him, casting a wide net to quote economists, journalists, professors, historians, authors and anthropologists. If there’s any complaint, it’s that he throws too many voices into the mix.
But go with it. Chances are, you’ll find yourself jotting down notes to read more from these experts at a later date.
He discusses efforts underway at community colleges, fellowships and other programs aimed at handling the needs of this growing segment of the population. He tells the stories of what he calls “a new group of pioneers who aren’t waiting for permission from anyone to begin fashioning this new phase.”
John Kerr, 65, for example, moved from a 40-year career of fundraising at public radio station WGBH in Boston to working as a summertime park ranger in Yellowstone working on environmental issues.
Betsy Werley left a 26-year career as a lawyer and manager of corporate projects for an executive director position at The Transition Network, a volunteer-based group for women over 50 “who want to support, help and advise one another as they move together into a new stage of life,” Freedman writes.
His call to action includes:
•Highest Education. “A key part of preparing for the encore phase is supporting continued development and retraining. Now is the time to develop a new kind of education suited to this new stage of life, blending vocational preparation, personal transformation and intellectual stimulation. We invest all our higher-education time and the vast majority of our higher-education dollars in the 18 to 25 period. We need to make higher education “far more adaptable to people at all stages of life,” he urges.
•National Service, Redux. National service programs — most notably the Peace Corps — were designed for young people, but why not create more of these programs for those over 55? He gives the example of the 2010Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The law sets a target of 10% for the proportion of AmeriCorps members over 55. Freedman asks: “Why stop at 10%?”
•Individual Purpose Accounts. Boomers have been tapping their kids’ 529 accounts to go back to school themselves, Freedman writes. We need a savings vehicle to help fund post-midlife transitions. He suggests an IPA — an Individual Purpose Account. Financial-services companies could offer them, and there could be employer matches.
“We better get going,” Freedman implores.