Encore Careers: A Worthy Second Act, or Overrated?

Readers weigh in on the concept of pursuing meaningful work later in life.

Christine Benz 15.01.2014
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Working at an enriching job later in life can bring personal gratification, and getting paid to do an enjoyable job is the icing on the cake. 

But not everyone is enamored of the idea of continuing to work once they've retired from their long-term careers. Some people intend to hang up the workaday life for good when they retire and that they have plenty of nonwork activities to keep them mentally and socially engaged once they quit earning a paycheck.

Judging from responses to a recent Discuss forum thread, many Morningstar.com readers have found one or more of those virtues in their own encore careers.

'I Love My Job'
Mental stimulation from a late-life career by teaching intensive programs to university students has meant a lot to Johnfromalaska, who wrote, "My major worries about retirement were motivating myself to keep intellectually active and going from a high-status position to being a nobody. Having to keep well ahead of graduate students is great for keeping the mind sharp, and when people ask me what I do, I have a socially acceptable answer."

Cyrusandmag has also found an extremely gratifying second act, giving motivational presentations to groups of people with diabetes and training others to do the same. "Although not a 'real' job, this was an extremely rewarding experience and, similar to my original job as a physician, gave me a sense of helping people."

Other posters said that even though financial considerations might not have been the main motivator in getting them to pursue a "second act," the money doesn't hurt.

Proxysteve wrote, "The biggest reason for an encore career is just to feel safer. Being able to delay dipping into one's nest egg adds that extra bit of confidence that you'll always have enough when you really can't work anymore."

Having a nonportfolio source of income was particularly soothing during the recent bear market, wrote Chief K. "I am glad that I had a regular income during the market drop in 2008-09. Watching my portfolio value slide might have led to some stress, but my paycheck probably acted as a nice psychological buffer." 

Other posters cited rewards both financial and intangible since they got their second career wind.

Cathsq2013, who has partnered with a former colleague on a startup, enthused, "I'm having more fun running a company than I ever expected to have in retirement. The potential upside--which we think could be huge--isn't bad, either."

Wolffie, working for a local ski company for six months of each year, sees a trifecta of benefits from his encore career: delayed withdrawals from his retirement portfolio, free skiing for him and his wife, and health-care benefits. "The ski company has a great health-care plan," Wolffie wrote, "and even though we are not employed during the off season, we remain on the plan throughout the year. If you retire early and are not yet on Medicare, it's really great to work at something you love and be covered by a great health insurance plan."

ManWithAPlan also cited multiple advantages to his encore career: " Renewed career vigor, fit of new position is perfect, flexible work environment, better health, no corporate handlers requesting reports, passionate teammates, fulfilling a purpose, sense of satisfaction, superior work environment."

'Finding an Encore Career in a New Field Is Difficult'
But other posters aren't 100% sold on the merits of encore careers. 

For Vandy73, who planned an encore career as a paralegal, the transition has been rocky. "I have found opportunities are limited, especially for older folks. Finding an 'encore career' in a new field is difficult at age 62. Discrimination is out there (laws or no laws), and lack of experience doesn't help." This poster advised, "For those interested in post-retirement work: 1) stick to your career profession or related fields, and 2) don't plan to earn what you did pre-retirement. If you need the money, don't quit your day job."

Bondshy urges would-be encore careerists to get a running start. "The last few years I worked part time so I could return to art school, a dream from long ago. By the time I retired I had completed almost enough courses for a bachelor's degree in fine arts. It would have been too daunting to leave one career without some skill in another."

Other respondents said they simply don't feel compelled to pursue an encore career.

For Rllucky, a highly satisfying primary career obviates the need for an encore. "Moving on to a second career depends on how you feel about your current situation. From my perspective, and I only speak for myself, aside from the typical hassles of the job I like my profession as a scientist. Conducting research is fulfilling to me."

For Stockvapors, being on sound financial footing and pursuing many interests makes the prospect of returning to work unpalatable. "I'm having way too much fun to go back to working for the man. Ick!"

At least a few posters noted that managing the family investment portfolio is a mentally engaging endeavor similar to having a job--and one that can be lucrative, too. DrBobb quipped, "I created a job after retiring. I manage our portfolio. I spend 25 to 30 hours a week on it. So far, it is profitable, and I enjoy it."

Bobert42's main reservation is that encore careers may not pay. "Most of what passes for encore careers in my area are volunteer opportunities. Since I did not do well in my 30-year corporate career I refuse to work for nothing especially in a job that does not utilize and enhance my professional skill set. I want to be paid for my effort."

BobbieCB asserted that encore careers are a happy-sounding media concoction. This poster observed, "'Encore career' is a strange concept that has gotten outsized publicity. The great majority of people who work for income in later life do so because they have to. Most would hardly consider their fate an 'encore career,' especially if they've been forced by circumstances to accept lower-paid work than when they were younger (which is becoming quite common in our country)."

Bobbie went on, "Meanwhile, many highly educated, high-achieving people who have made enough money to retire often do engage in new work, in philanthropy, charities, or low-paid 'interesting occupations.' Saying that these folks engage in 'encore careers' is misleading, because the word 'career' usually implies income as a major component. These folks are working because they want to and any concept of 'career' or income as a driving component is absent."

For people with the luxury to pursue a second career without major consideration for financial remuneration, however, ManWithAPlan urges them to go for it. "My advice reads like a cliche: Figure out what you love to do and then go do it. If your choice solves a problem or addresses the greater good, so much the better. Give back, don't take. There are no dress rehearsals in life, and we each only get one shot at it. So go live life!"


Christine Benz is Morningstar's director of personal finance.


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Christine Benz  Christine Benz is Morningstar's director of personal finance and author of 30-Minute Money Solutions: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Your Finances and the Morningstar Guide to Mutual Funds: 5-Star Strategies for Success. Follow Christine on Twitter: @christine_benz and on Facebook.

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