Marci Alboher C’88 can name the exact moment she decided to change careers for the first time. An in-house lawyer for a magazine subscription service, she was on vacation in Rio de Janeiro when she got a call from her boss asking if she would come back to work early to fix a problem. She was already feeling ethically compromised in her role, and that conversation provided the wake-up call she needed to quit her job—and her career in law entirely.
Two decades later, Alboher is an expert on the subject of career transitions, with a specific focus on “encore careers,” the recently coined term for people reinventing themselves later in life. And she believes her new book—The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference In the Second Half of Life—can serve as a road map and nuts-and-bolts guide for baby boomers who want to, in her words, “change the world” rather than retire.
The book, which not only chronicles Alboher’s transition story but offers hundreds of others, is designed to help people overcome obstacles and successfully change their career trajectory when they otherwise might not know how to do so.
“We have 10,000 people turning 65 every day,” she says. “If even a fraction of those people get hold of the encore idea and want to work on their own encore careers, think of the impact that can have on issues like homelessness and poverty and education and the environment and all of the issues we care about.”
At 47, Alboher is not yet in the “encore” stage of her life. Her own professional makeover happened while she was still in her 30s, but she can relate to the struggles older people have adjusting to new careers, because she had many of the same ones after leaving her comfortable job as a lawyer to become a freelance journalist and author.
“I had to get used to being a beginner again and learn from people who are much younger than me,” she says. “And that’s a real encore theme. If you’re in your 50s and 60s and are taking a chance, you may be managed by and learning from people who are young enough to be your kids. I got a taste of that when I had my first career change.”
Despite her initial challenges, Alboher forged a successful career in journalism, writing for a slew of publications and penning her own column and blog for The New York Times called “Shifting Careers.” During that time, one of the people she wrote about was Marc Freedman, whom she calls the “pioneer” of the encore movement. And when the Times cancelled her column, she made her second career transformation and joined Freedman at Encore.org, the nonprofit organization he founded to promote encore careers.
Now a vice president at Encore.org, Alboher recently returned from a six-month national book tour to promote The Encore Career Handbook, which was published in January.
“I called it an encore listening tour because I really traveled the entire country taking the pulse of this kind of really burgeoning social movement,” she says. “People were really yearning to connect with other people in their communities who want to have an impact.”
One of her stops was at the Penn Bookstore in May, when she was on campus to celebrate her 25th reunion. Her classmates haven’t reached encore age yet, but she says that many of them were inspired by her message that it’s never too late to make a social impact. And some, she notes, are already exploring some of the later-in-life career options she writes about in her book.
“I felt like I was catching my classmates at a time where they could start planning for futures and thinking about how they want to leave a stamp on the world,” Alboher says. “We’re in a generation where we don’t just think about doing that with philanthropy. It’s one thing to have enough money where you might want to leave your name on a building or sponsor a scholarship for Penn students. But what would it be like if you dedicated the latter part of your career to doing work that’s part of your legacy? I think people were really receptive of the message.”
As her frequent use of the word “legacy” and talk about “changing the world” indicate, Alboher has ambitious plans for the encore movement. She’s hesitant to even call The Encore Career Handbook a career book because, to her, that implies “climbing the ladder or succeeding in some way,” whereas she hopes her book will “appeal to people whose most important motivator is they want to make a difference in the world.” She then points to people like Bill Gates, who she thinks will be remembered more for his recent philanthropic work than for creating Microsoft.
“I think it helps that we’ve seen very high-profile people move into second acts that are so much about fixing the world’s problems,” she says. “That’s something we can all aspire to, really.”
Although her book has been published and her book tour now completed, Alboher believes she’s just getting started promoting encore careers, which is becoming more important every day as life expectancy grows.
In the future, she hopes that encore education becomes a standard in higher learning and that her book can become a “textbook” in those classes. Even more than that, she dreams that the encore idea will soon become a part of everyday vernacular.
“We hope to get to the point,” she says, “where when people hit their 60th birthday rather than being asked, ‘Are you thinking about retiring?’ it becomes commonplace for people to say, ‘So what’s your encore going to be?’”—D.Z.
SEPT|OCT 2013 Contents