How Your Sixties Can Be Your Best Decade Ever, with Your Seventies Not Far Behind

Greek Proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they never will sit.”

The Kauffman Foundation reports that more Boomers are starting businesses today than are Millennials. So, what’s up with that? Heck, when my dad was 60, he was counting the days until retirement. Me? At that age I was trying to figure out what comes next, but starting a business wasn’t on the list.

OK, so I understand that part of the reason Boomers start businesses is financial. Like everyone else, they have bills to pay. When my dad retired, he had a pension to go along with his social security, not so with today’s retirees. (Well, unless you work for the government). Social security alone however, isn’t enough for the rest of us, so in lieu of the pension my dad received, today’s Boomers start businesses. Makes sense to me.

In a 2013 study by the Associated Press, 80% of Americans over age 50 said they plan to work after retirement. I get that too, many of that 80% have no choice; it’s estimated that the average American couple will incur $250,000 in hospital bills over and above what Medicare pays. The Golden Years ain’t cheap.

But money isn’t all that’s going through the Boomer’s mind when he decides to start a business. While the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination against people over 40, let’s face it, as we get older, we’re going to get discriminated against, whether the government decrees it or not. Let’s face it, who would you rather hire; a wired, healthy, 25year-old, or a technology challenged, counting-the-days-til-Medicare, 60year-old, especially when the 25year-old comes cheaper? So, the Boomer starts a business, in part because he can’t get a job.

Anyway, since 60 is the new 50 (and soon to be 45) and since many people of Boomer age aren’t ready for golf, TV, and/or irrelevance, it’s natural that he (or she, of course) might decide to get off his butt and start a business. After all, our adrenalin needs a place to run, and if it can’t run on someone else’s payroll, it can run on our own.

Books have been written on the subject of what to do about what comes after our working career is done. The best of the lot, by far, is Marc Freedman’s The Big Shift. Freedman’s premise? That those of us who don’t have pensions (and in many cases, those who do) need a new map of life. Instead of history’s three stages (Learn. Earn. Retire), we now need a fourth stage. Freedman calls that fourth stage an Encore Career. (Learn. Earn. Encore career. Then retire.) We’re living too long these days, Freedman says, to fit the old model.

I know of what Freedman writes. At age 82, I’m in the throes of my fifth career, which includes three Encore careers. (Learn. Earn. Encore Career. Encore Career. Encore Career.) Retirement, which, Freedman says, will be the sixth, won’t be happening anytime soon. (Health permitting, make that NEVER).

Here’s the cool thing about how Encore careers can work; besides the financial benefit they deliver they can help us rise us to new heights. Which means, for me anyway, that the best decade of my life was my 60’s. The second best? My 70’s.

OK, so admittedly the “best decade ever” comment depends upon how you define the word “best.” For me, “best” means “making the biggest difference in people’s lives.” Which translates to “I’ve made a bigger difference in people’s lives in the last two decades than I did in my previous six.”

Freedman didn’t invent this concept of Encore careers incidentally, rather he observed it in others. The poster elder of Encore Careers is Jimmy Carter. Carter was the President of the United States, for crying out loud, and yet he’s made a bigger difference in his Encore Career than he did in his previous day job. Some would say he’s the best former President ever.

If you’re not an ex-POTUS however, chances are you won’t be able to make the degree of impact that President Carter has made. Not to worry, there’s plenty of other cool stuff to do when building an Encore career. You can…

· Work locally, doing something you enjoy: At a golf course, at a library, at a school.

· Work somewhere else: Get the hell out of Dodge, check out for a fascinating alternative.

· Volunteer: There’s no shortage of opportunities in my community, betcha that includes yours, too.

· Write: Start a blog, write your life story, keep a diary. No one ever got hurt writing.

· Mentor: Mentoring can be fun, rewarding, and character building. For you and for your mentee.

Me? At age 60 with an entrepreneurial career behind me, I made the decision to keep doing the stuff I’d been doing (and was good at), which included mentoring young entrepreneurs, starting and/or fixing nonprofits, and, of course, writing. Unlike President Carter (but similar to 99% of the rest of us), my network was local, so that’s where I dove in.

OK, so the Encore Career activities I participated in may not have paid well, but they sure do feel good when you’re doing them. And when you’re finished. Not to mention they’re good for the soul.

Steven Covey once wrote that in order for us to live a fulfilling life, the Four L’s must be present. Covey’s four L’s include:

· Live: A roof over our head, food on the table

· Love: Someone, or something, to love

· Learn: The unending pursuit of knowledge

· Leave a Legacy: The ongoing pursuit of leaving something meaningful behind

My translation of Covey’s Four L’s? That leaving a Legacy should be the end game of life, the reason we all exist.

And we’re never too old to be pursuing our legacy.

Jim Schell is an 82-year old, geezer-defying author, entrepreneur, and mentor. In addition to blogging, Jim also writes CoolReads (i.e. condensed books) for his latest startup, Lights On Publishing. Visit Jim Schell’s author page on Amazon for a complete list of his published books.