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11 Jul 2016

It’s never too late to try a new career

Heard of “encore careers”? Imagine you’ve had a long successful career in one field and are getting ready to retire. But you have more to offer! You don’t want to give up the world of work altogether. Time for an encore.

Encore careers use the skills and experience of older adults to tackle social problems.  Many baby boomers who still have plenty of energy and ideas but are ready to finish up their regular job are putting their CVs to work for social issues they are passionate about. Some join existing charities, some begin new social enterprises. They may draw a wage (though generally significantly less than in previous careers) or may work on a voluntary basis. But the encore career movement is driven by a passionate commitment to making the world a better place.

There are books advising us how to “make a difference and a living in the second half of life”, there are websites telling the stories of people working with foster children or saving endangered species. It is becoming quite a movement in the United States.

It seems the combination of personal fulfilment, a bit of income and making a difference in your community is a compelling one.

I recently heard a story of a later life career change of a different kind. I attended the Maori Economic Summit in Nelson last year and listened to a keynote speech by Tim Melville, owner of an Auckland gallery representing contemporary New Zealand and aboriginal art. After an interesting lead-in about his Nelson roots, time as an Air New Zealand steward and interesting mid-career switch, Tim told us about an aboriginal artist he had represented.

The artist’s name was Sally Gabori and she only began painting in her 80s. She attended an arts session quite by chance. Another activity had fallen through so the local arts centre stepped in to host 81 year old Sally and some other women of her tribe. They were given some paints and left to experiment. At the end of the session when the organisers came back and saw what Sally had produced they told her she’d better come back the next day.

After that she painted pretty much every day and was hailed as one of the leading contemporary Australian artists. Her works were exhibited around the world in countries such as the USA and United Kingdom and were purchased for major collections in Australia. All of a sudden, in her 80s, Sally was an arts celebrity …. and making a lot of money.

Here is a picture Tim kindly shared, of one of his visits to see Sally:

sally gabori

I love this story because it’s so unexpected. And because a woman finding an artistic outlet in her 80s and gaining world-wide recognition for her vision runs so counter to our stereotype of  the dwindling energy and achievements of old age.

From what I’ve since read about Sally her story has a lot in common with those encore careerists. She found a passion in later life that continued to inspire and motivate her right through to her death at age 90.

It really never is too late.