Starting a new career at 60
The following is a guest post by Marci Alboher, vice president at Civic Ventures, a think tank making it easier for millions to find encore careers with personal meaning and social impact. This is part of the kickoff to a series on social entrepreneurship. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Mark Goldsmith created Getting Out and Staying Out, a program that reduces the recidivism rate of young men released from prisons and jails. Elaine Santore founded Umbrella of the Capital District, a service that pairs retired handy people with aging homeowners who need help with small home repairs. And Adele Douglass (see above photo) created Humane Farm Animal Care, the nationâ€™s first program to certify that farming practices are humane from birth to slaughter.
They are all social entrepreneurs — creative, inventive, enterprising individuals who bring their talent and passion to solving the problems of our day — and they are all over the age of 55.
Instead of slowing down, theyâ€™re just starting up. With nearly 80 million boomers beginning to enter their 60s, we should expect to see more of these innovators.
According to a 2009 Kauffman Foundation report, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity over the past decade has come from those between the ages of 55 and 64. In a time when so much attention and hopes are placed on bright, young minds, these older entrepreneurs bring a most valuable asset that is too often overlooked — experience.
Mark Goldsmith, 73, in below photo, says that his 35 years as an executive in the cosmetics industry helped him treat his nonprofit like a business from the start. â€śIn the nonprofit sector, weâ€™re still looking for the bottom line; weâ€™re just characterizing it differently,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s about starting to see the light in someoneâ€™s eyes.â€ť
Elaine Santore, 59, who had had a successful career in graphic design, says thereâ€™s something about reaching a life stage where â€śyouâ€™ve had a career, youâ€™ve had your family, and itâ€™s time to give back.â€ť
As her own relatives aged, she started seeing older people being forced to give up their homes and move into nursing homes, not because they couldnâ€™t maintain themselves physically, but because they could no longer maintain their homes.
â€śThis population deserved more then they were getting. We saw the problem, and we came up with a solution — not the solution, but a solution,â€ť Santore explains.
Adele Douglass, 63, says that having a little seasoning made it easier (but by no means easy) to do something about an injustice she saw — the mistreatment of animals raised for our food supply.
â€śYou really need some knowledge to go out and fix something thatâ€™s broken,â€ť she says. â€śAs someone whoâ€™d worked in public policy, I had been around legislation long enough to know that more legislation wasnâ€™t the answer. Iâ€™d also been a homemaker and a mother who knew how to multitask and sacrifice.â€ť
Another benefit of age — once her kids were out of the house, Douglass had no one to take care of but herself. Her five grandchildren had an influence too; they were old enough to start asking questions about the food they were eating, and she wanted to see change in her lifetime.
Todayâ€™s 60-year-olds see another 10 or 20 years for productive, meaningful encore careers.Â While some will need to work longer for income, others are seizing these bonus years as a time to do what may be the most significant work of their lives.
Last month, the world lost Dr. Robert Butler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on aging who coined the term, â€śageism.â€ť Butler was the founder of the National Institute on Aging and the creator of the first department of geriatrics at a United States medical school. According to the New York Times, he was putting in 60-hour work weeks until days before his death at age 83.
We need everybody at work, bringing the best ideas to life. As Mark Goldsmith says, â€śIf you think there is a population that needs your attention, just do something.â€ť If you need even more inspiration, have a look at Vogueâ€™s August Issue — highlighting reinvention at every age.
Top photo: Adele Douglass, founder of Humane Farm Animal Care, at her farm in Virginia.