70 and thriving: How I discovered my encore career

In the midst of moving and changing my residential address, and at 70 years of age, I finally figured out my encore career: building Bankers Boxes. Perhaps my skills will transfer to folding pizza boxes.

This is as good a time as any to use humor, i.e. while winding down your career. Most people glumly retire. It has to be done with a modicum of planning and foresight, as well as joy and humor. The second-best advice I ever received was to retire when you are completely free from debt (other than your fixed expenses). The best advice I ever received was not to retire but rather to retire into something.

Marc Freedman, a Yale-trained MBA, originated the term “encore career,” an idea that links second acts in life to the greater good. While both an encore career and retirement recognize the changing needs and desires as one age, they differ in their perspective towards work in the later stages of life. An encore career is about reinvention and continued contribution while winding down is more about slowing the pace and gradually stepping back from active professional life.

Winding down a career, which is where I currently find myself, is typically associated with reducing work responsibilities and commitments as one approaches retirement. It often involves a gradual transition from full-time work to part-time or flexible work arrangements.

For example, a senior executive might step down from their role and take on a consultant position within the same company, working the same or fewer hours but still sharing their expertise. This is the type of arrangement I have with my current employer, a health insurance company.

If you’re considering winding down your career, here are some tips:

1. Plan ahead. Consider your financial situation and discuss your plans with a financial advisor to ensure a smooth transition to retirement. You want to have peace of mind that you can continue a reasonable lifestyle without earned income, living primarily off your investments.

2. Gradual transition. Instead of abruptly stopping work, consider part-time, freelance, or consultant work. This allows you to maintain a professional identity while enjoying more flexibility. In winding down my career, I made sure I would have the flexibility to travel to visit my grandchildren, including one who lives in Hawaii.

3. Mentoring. Use your experience and knowledge to mentor younger colleagues. This can be fulfilling and ensure that your professional legacy continues. Mentoring is important to me because I have an academic background and enjoy teaching.

4. Pursue passions. Use the extra time to pursue hobbies or interests that you may not have had time for during your full-time career. These are hobbies and extracurricular activities that sustain your interests and are different from a “bucket list,” which aims to prioritize experiences, goals, and achievements a person wants to accomplish during their lifetime.

5. Stay active. Keep yourself physically and mentally active. Engage in activities that stimulate the mind and keep the body healthy.

Here are some examples of activities that can help keep both the mind and body stimulated:

Physical activities

Walking or hiking. Regular walks or hikes in nature can boost cardiovascular health and improve mood. Walking is my preferred activity.

Yoga or tai chi. These activities enhance flexibility, balance, and strength while also promoting relaxation and mindfulness.

Swimming. A low-impact exercise that is excellent for overall fitness and joint health.

Cycling. Great for cardiovascular health and can be done outdoors or on a stationary bike.

Strength training. Using weights or resistance bands to maintain muscle mass and bone density.

Gardening. Provides moderate physical activity and exposure to fresh air and sunlight.

Dancing. A fun way to stay active, improve coordination, and socialize.

Mental activities

Reading. Regular reading can enhance knowledge, improve vocabulary, and stimulate the mind.

Puzzles and games. Crosswords, Sudoku, chess, and other brain games can improve cognitive function.

Learning a new skill or hobby. Taking up activities like painting, knitting, playing a musical instrument, or cooking can keep the mind engaged.

Taking classes. To keep learning, enroll in local community college courses or online classes in subjects of interest. As my passion for writing deepened, I enrolled in a narrative health care program at a local university and subsequently assisted in teaching.

Volunteering. Engaging in volunteer work can provide a sense of purpose and opportunities for social interaction.

Traveling. Exploring new places can provide mental stimulation and new experiences.

Writing. Keeping a journal, writing memoirs, or starting (or contributing) to a blog can be mentally stimulating and creatively fulfilling.

Social activities

Joining clubs or groups. To stay socially active, participate in book clubs, hobby groups, or fitness classes.

Attending social events. Regularly attend community events, concerts, theater productions, or local fairs.

Connecting with friends and family. Maintain strong social ties through regular meetups, phone calls, or video chats.

Mind-body activities

Meditation and mindfulness. Practices that can reduce stress and improve mental clarity.

Practicing gratitude. Showing appreciation and keeping a gratitude journal to focus on positive aspects of life.

Engaging in creative arts. Activities like painting, drawing, or sculpture that involve both mental focus and physical activity.

By incorporating a variety of these activities into your routine, you can stay active and engaged, promoting overall well-being as you transition into a new phase of life. Consider moving to a 55+ community with all of the aforementioned activities built in.

Remember, the process of winding down your career should be personal and tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. It’s about making the transition to the next phase of life as fulfilling and enriching as possible, even if that entails folding pizza boxes!

Arthur Lazarus is a former Doximity Fellow, a member of the editorial board of the American Association for Physician Leadership, and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of several books on narrative medicine, including Medicine on Fire: A Narrative Travelogue and Narrative Medicine: Harnessing the Power of Storytelling through Essays.


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