Is it Time for A Big Shift?
Navigating What’s Next
The Big Shift: Navigating The New Stage Beyond Midlife by Marc Freedman
Review written by Amy Purdy
In his optimistic and inspiring new book, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (PublicAffairs, $24.99), Marc Freedman lays out his vision for transforming the lives of millions of people in their fifties, sixties and seventies, and thereby transforming society.
The book is both a call to action and a blueprint for creating a new stage after midlife, which Freedman calls the “encore stage.” Freedman is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a nonprofit think tank on boomers, work and social purpose. He convincingly argues that society needs the wealth of experience and talent of people in the encore stage. Freedman believes that this untapped potential will be a crucial source of new solutions to society’s complex challenges.
The surge of people into this new stage -- eight thousand people a day turn sixty-- is creating what Freedman says is the “most important social phenomenon of the new century.” Since people are living longer and healthier lives, this encore stage could span half a lifetime. Many people at age 65, the traditional retirement age, are unable to stop working for economic reasons. Many are interested in new career opportunities, part time work and volunteering. “Thirty-year retirements are simply not going to work, nor are they desirable,” writes Freedman. Instead, he calls for a “new map of life” characterized by “purpose, contribution and commitment, particularly to the well-being of future generations.”
How do individuals and society transition to this new stage of life? The Big Shift addresses this question by telling the stories of organizations that are already creating and adapting pathways. Freedman cites Coming of Age as an organization in the forefront of the encore movement. Coming of Age, based in Philadelphia with replications throughout the country, focuses on helping individuals 50+ explore their futures and connect and contribute in their communities. Coming of Age also works with nonprofits to create compelling job and volunteer opportunities that capture the talents and expertise of older adults and helps organizations achieve their core missions. Freedman also highlights The Transition Network, a volunteer-based organization for women fifty and above who want to support, help and advise each other as they move into the next stage of life. This organization, based in New York City, also has chapters across the United States.
The book also relates stories of people who have successfully created their own encore lives and careers. In order to help create this new period of life, Freedman proposes ten steps, including: a “gap year for grown-ups;” retraining and education; revamping of human resources policies geared to older workers; and the creation of special savings accounts for managing transitions.
The Big Shift grew out of a desire to make sense of what was happening in his own life. At age 50, after 25 years of working and exhausted from the pace of his professional life, Freedman decided to take a two-week road trip with his wife and two young sons. When he made reservations, he asked the hotel clerk for an AARP discount and two cribs. Freedman writes, “That odd combination of discounts and requests—signs of what once indicated distinct parts of the life cycle separated by decades, made one thing abundantly clear and personal: The old map of life, which guided us for generations, was rapidly becoming an anachronism.” In The Big Shift, Freedman proves to be a perfect travelingcompanion and wonderful navigator for a journey thorough the uncharted waters of the encore stage of life.
In addition to founding Civic Ventures, Freedman is co-founder of Experience Corps and The Purpose Prize. His previous books are: Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life; Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America; The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth, and the New Voluntarism.
Amy Purdy is a communications consultant and writer with a focus on issues related to aging. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.