Expand That Career Arc! The Wonderful Work of Odyssey.

2014-02-01 15.05.52-2Welcome back to Part 4/5 on crafting a remarkable Post50 Life. We explored Geography of Place and Freedom. Today, it’s about being productive in our longevity. We move on to Career Arc Extension, the third of the Four Elements of Post50 Lifestyle.

The purpose of a Post50 odyssey is to discover what the next stage of our life will hold – to find out what’s ahead. The journey is a series of experiences that gives us knowledge and understanding.

At the threshold of finding ‘future work’ for the last third of life, expect to feel dizzy.

  • Should I continue my current profession? (Career success or ‘loving our work’ often makes this seem a good idea when it’s not.)
  • Should I begin to learn skills for a different  industry?
  • Do I have time to build a new career?
  • Why not be content with past career success and become a volunteer?

With longevity available, most of us are set to do some kind of ‘work’ through our 70s and 80s.

Spike Lee said, “As an artist you have to want longevity because longevity allows you to do your work.”

To label myself an ‘artist’ always seemed inappropriate and far-fetched. Maybe you’ve felt this way.

I don’t paint or sculpt. I don’t ballet or write songs. Actually I require professional help just choosing fabric for throw pillows.

But as I ended my transition, I changed my mind. I am an artist.

No higher artistic expression exists than creating a life.

I own my first fifty years and dare myself to crave more and more from my time left. I marvel at my stops and starts, successes and failures, good fortune and bad luck. I am an illustrator and designer who collects stories of my past merging them into a collage of pictures of a future – my future.

I create a life – mine.

It’s the same for all of us. The craft and design of your Post50 life – where a new working identity is vital – is your ‘art.’

Marvelous and a bit heady, isn’t it, to be an artist? We could do wild things with our lives.

Let’s temper that for now.

A carefree focus on ‘art’ can impoverish future wellbeing. And in my mind, the phrase ‘starving artist’ has no charm.


Sunday afternoon in front of the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art. Santiago, Chile
Sunday afternoon in front of the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art. Santiago, Chile

Future Income Makes Room for Interior Riches

To extend your career arc is to conceive and fashion a conscious production of moving parts – energy, commitment, time, desire and interests – into a future career.

But not one that creates a cavity in new-found freedom. We want our time back in our Post50 lifestyle, and we’ll get it.

More time does not lead to a better life. More work does.

Dare, Dream and Work Forever presents the case and the research on why traditional retirement is a mistake and why work is critical to your future happiness and wellbeing.

What is your ‘career’ for the future?

I don’t know and neither do you. You’re on an odyssey; you shouldn’t know right now.

What you should know is that the potential to make money from ‘your future work’ is imperative for happiness and wellbeing.

Your future financial plan is sufficient, you say? You’re okay about money for your future? You don’t have to work.

Applause for being responsible or lucky. But don’t be too confident.

Living without a late-in-life income diminishes lifestyle, inhibits choices, limits gifting and experiences, and makes you worry.  (If you have twenty million in the bank, you can stop reading here.)

Money is a good thing for security, sharing, and self-esteem. Earning power has been part of your working identity since you were a teen; age is no reason to abandon the idea.

An income until you are really, really old is the best plan ever. Ask your financial advisor.

When is ‘Enough’ Enough? (Not any time soon.)

Finding work Post50 you enjoy, want to do and find meaningful is a high priority. But the ability to make money using your talents has elevated precedence in an age of longevity.

In midlife, my husband and I operated our finances with ‘pots of money.’ As peak-earning power intersected with defined values and responsibilities, a simple system worked for us:

  1. The boat-in-the-Caribbean pot
  2. My pot, your pot, our pot
  3. Living expenses pot
  4. Fun pot
  5. Send-kids-to-college pot
  6. Oh-we-need-some-trees pot (unexpected expenses)
  7. Future stash pot

As the FAA mandated retirement closed in for my pilot husband at 60 (it is now 65), so did financial institutions to help “handle our money.” They wanted the answer to ‘where does your money go?’

“Into the pots!” we said. We were so busy in our lives we guesstimated everything until the second meeting when they smiled and presented those godawful graphs that had us running out of money at 80.

We miss the money-pot days. Today, we are fortunate to be on the receiving end of incomes from investments, pensions, business and social security.

But I’ve learned that plans for ‘enough’ money for forty years doesn’t factor in the unforeseen.

What is the unforeseen? It’s not bad things like health issues, care for aging parents, raising our children’s children or having to lend them money.

The unforeseen is unlucky events, new roles, desire for different experiences and unanticipated interests. Here are ours:

  1. Natural Disaster. No hurricane hit our area for 100 years until Ivan slammed us. Despite more than adequate insurance, out-of-pocket expenses were over $180,000. We couldn’t live in our home for 2.5 years.
  2. Changes in Roles.  As a late-in-life Grandparent, I now anticipate trips to the South Pole with my grandson. Who knew this would happen to me? How could I have known the joy of seeing a two-year-old sporting $65 shoes?
  3. Late-in-Life Interests.  At 60 I learned to love three-month immersions on other continents; hostels rarely suffice for my desired accommodations. I also developed a yen for ‘big’ art. Want to talk about the cost of framing ‘big’ art? My husband and I have begun to enjoy annual WWII Conferences in New Orleans.  All these interests occurred in my late 50s.
  4. Spend Less as You Get Older? (Hell no.)  Sacrifice eating out, entertainment, charitable contributions, gifts and you’ll not be happy about it. And I know you know that Botox is not cheap.
  5. Broken Promises. Delta declares bankruptcy, dumps pilot retirements, and we’re stunned. Companies do this all the time. Promises on pensions, investment portfolios, real estate holdings are swiped out as easily as that spider web you swished away this morning.

Thousands of financially mindful people can give examples of how things don’t “work out as anticipated.”

You’ll want a wee bit more money than you think you do.

So the best plan to extend a career arc? Search for purpose, passion, and a paycheck.

Hard work is a prison sentence if it doesn't have meaning. - Malcolm Gladwell
Hard work is a prison sentence if it doesn’t have meaning. – Malcolm Gladwell

 Job or Career?  (Answer: Career)

If online dating for seniors feels awkward, so does the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” when you’ve already lived over half of it.

In the design of a Post50 Life, nothing offers more challenges than in the discovery of ‘the work.’

While there is no magic bullet to cut through the confusing and complicated matter of finding new late-in-life work identity – there is boundless potential.

But is it possible to feel as excited about work at 60 as you were at 25?

Passion isn’t some hard to reach place and finding ‘meaning’ in a livelihood isn’t that difficult. Careers of every kind from home inspectors to lawn maintenance and at every status level can provide powerful sources of personal meaning.

But it won’t happen if you settle for seeing yourself in a ‘job’ instead of a ‘career.’

Research data shows:

  1. People who saw themselves in jobs almost never saw the work as meaningful, whereas those in careers more often did.
  2. Older people doing the same work as younger people differ in how they see their work in career terms. Older people doing the same work were more likely to see it as a job. (so perspective counts)
  3. Older workers tend to lose sight of work as the opportunity to develop ‘future selves’ as they did when they were younger. (again, perspective counts)

A job and a career are both terms for paid employment. But that’s it for the similarities.

A job is simply something you do to earn money. It puts cash in your pocket but the work often doesn’t interest you and in five years, you’ll still not be crazy about it.

A career is a series of connected opportunities where you continue to learn, build skills and create a professional brand. In five years, you’ll be doing something very similar to what you’re doing now, increase your income and continue to tackle interesting problems.

Extending your career arc is about creating paid employment that will fuel your future life for years, if not your entire life.

Energize yourself with a long bright future of work and choose to capture the work do in terms of a ‘career’ not a ‘job.’

Unless, of course, you would like to dole out your talents ‘on the house.’

2014-06-23 21.02.52-1Volunteering Makes People Happy…Except When It Doesn’t.

Volunteers dispense talents for free. They ransom their time in exchange for a belief they are making a difference. And, they do.

But many are ever-ready bunnies giving their life away as well as their talents.

Volunteering is a magnet that fills out a Post50 lifestyle design with easy meaning. “I volunteer …. ” (you don’t even have to finish the sentence) provides instant work-identity along with respect, admiration and a bit of status. Who doesn’t want that?

But why can’t you work for money and give back for free? You can, and possibly do like many I know.

  • A plastic surgeon has a successful practice and volunteers 10 weeks a year doing facial reconstruction in Guatemala and Haiti.
  • A senior full time executive in a mid-size company is active on three non-profit boards and chairs the Spring Arts Festival in her local community.
  • In his sixties, a small business owner with twelve employees is a member of the   United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Giving away talents is often a result of not wanting to fully engage in career reinvention, commit to building new skills and/or a lack of creative (entrepreneurial) thinking.

Example 1: A woman in her late fifties newly fervent about teaching children to read tells me she entertains a new lifestyle of volunteerism as her last child heads to college. I asked: Why don’t you consider an investment in reading certification, become a tutor and get paid?  “I never thought of that,” she said.

Example 2:My smart-as-a-tack colleague runs political campaigns for no pay. She could market herself as a consultant so easily with her sterling track record, still influence her city and get paid. Perhaps her big heart bucks the idea. Maybe there’s fear a 2nd career would be the 70-hour work week of the past.

The secret life of a volunteer is being able to fill a calendar, feed an ego, and achieve respect — all without doing the hard work of creating a new working identity.

I’m not being harsh about giving back. But my firm persuasion is that you can forge a hybrid between the spirit of service and the practicality of continued income.

What Works in the World of Career Transition?

“Millions are trading in the old dream of the freedom from work for a new one animated by what might be called the freedom to work,” states Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org.

But at the beginning of a Post50 career odyssey, there’s a battle going on between your present self and your future self. Your present self says, ‘it will all work out,’ while your future self is squirmy and yearns for clarity.

Where’s the route to your career arc extension? There are many pathways -and that alone can make you cantankerous. Seeking early answers and clarity for your destination is about about as easy as trying to follow one of those red lines on Delta’s interactive route map of North America. (Aren’t you laughing or am I the only one who’s tried?!!)

Still, we must begin.

Do they think we can really find our way with this?
Do they think we can really find our way with this?

Mind-map, journal, list your strengths, or get a coach. Explore interests, curiosities, and hobbies. If you hear an inner voice speak, follow it. Test drive a dream job, seek entrepreneurial skills, invest in inner-development or take a sabbatical to clear your mind and mull things over.

A great question could work. Asking ‘what do I do better than most people’ inspired the successful career transition for G. Richard Shell, professor at the Wharton School of Business. He describes his odyssey years that began with painting houses and touring the country in a ragtag, left-wing theater group in “Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success.”  (2013 Starred-review in the New York Times. Shell teaches a popular Success Course at Wharton.)

What’s important in career reinvention is to take action, stay in motion, learn as you go and remain open to the insights you gain as you circle around and through possibilities.

You are part of a great migration at the vanguard of permanent change on how to live long ‘productively.’

Believe me. It’s exciting.


Post50 Lifestyle Design ElementsYou can review the Post50 Lifestyle Design Elements here.

About Barbara Pagano

Barbara Pagano,Ed.S., author and speaker, influenced over 3,500 executives in organizations to achieve higher performance. She is now on a mission to help individuals extend their career arcs and craft lifestyles of productive longevity.
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