When Bill Gates left Microsoft, he didn’t retire, even though he certainly could have afforded to do so. Instead, he devoted himself to his foundation, which works to improve the lives of others. When Hillary Clinton was senator, she didn’t even think of retiring. Now that she has completed her term as Secretary of State, the press is abuzz with whether or not she wants to be our next leader. When a friend of mine could no longer fight burnout, she left geriatric nursing at age 60 and went to law school to become an in-demand advocate for elders. When an accountant neighbor (and avid gardener) was laid off at age 53, he started his own successful landscaping company in which he provides internships for business students.
Encore careers are those we embark upon during the second half of life and in which we derive passion, purpose, and a paycheck (Encore.org). So if your career hasn’t been linear, you are not alone. Changing our career path, by choice or circumstance, has become commonplace in adulthood -- especially in the face of layoffs, downsizing, outsourcing, and dwindling pensions, as well as increasing health and longevity -- so that many of us think not about retiring, but retooling.
I’ve discussed the MAMA cycles of adult identity development before in this blog, but let me review briefly. A person in the Moratorium identity status, characterized by high levels of exploration and consideration of options, but low levels of commitment and decision, then moves into the Achievement identity status, characterized by high levels of exploration and consideration of options, and high levels of commitment and decision. Such a transition is normative and healthy. The college student who has yet to decide on a major needs to eventually declare one. But let’s say that he or she begins to question the choice, either that semester or three decades later. Now this adult may begin exploring and considering options, to eventually commit and make a decision. The Moratorium to Achievement transition is repeated again, and hence, we experience a MAMA cycle.
Embarking on this process requires we revisit some of the tasks required for career management, i.e., the proactive monitoring of our career throughout our working life. For instance, after Exploring & Committing to a particular career, we enter the Establishment stage of career management, in which we search for and obtain employment, become socialized to our work environment, manage work stress and dissatisfaction, network, assert ourselves, and handle conflicts at the workplace.
Next, we enter the Maintenance stage of career management, in which we recycle through Exploring & Committing as well as Establishment, and then begin to specialize in our field, develop self-renewal plans, and prepare for retirement or an encore career. Finally, in the Disengagement/Reengagement stage, we manage the transition from work to retirement or an encore career (Lent and Brown, 2013).
Encore careers, and MAMA cycles, give us freedom to reinvent ourselves to better fit with our current interests and values. And they certainly aren’t symptomatic of failure (Lent and Brown, 2013). If anything, it takes courage and a host of other interpersonal strengths to forge ahead into the unknown after years of doing the same thing, day after day. This is especially true for everyday folks such as my friend the former nurse now attorney and my neighbor the former accountant now entrepreneur, who had neither fame nor fortune to buoy them along the often exhilarating, but rough waters of reinvention. As a result of their willingness to retool rather than retire, they are grateful to have had the opportunity to improve their lives, and improve the lives of others.
So like so many things in life, career management is what we make of it. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping-stone to the optimist.”
Lent, R. W. & Brown, S. D. (2013). Social cognitive model of career self-management: Toward a unifying view of adaptive career behavior across the life span. Journal of Counseling Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/a0033446