When you were young, being a cog in someone else’s profit machine probably wasn’t what you had in mind.

You had dreams of making an impact, of leaving the world a better place than you found it.  Sure you had to make a living, but deep down, you also wanted to make a difference.

It’s not that your idealism faded as you got older, it’s just you never figured out a way to make it happen.

But what if your purpose could also include a paycheck?

That’s the premise of a new book by Marci Alboher called The Encore Career Handbook.  And it’s packed with the details that make the process amazingly doable.

The book is aimed at those who have already worked a full career, primarily Boomers in their 50’s, 60’s or older.  However, the book rightly points out that the advice equally applies to those in the late 30’s and 40’s who have accumulated significant experience, but yearn for more meaningful work.

My own take is that the book is an absolute treasure trove of how-to when it comes to finding work that serves the greater good.  The key word in the title is Handbook: it’s a really nice combo of big ideas and the resources you need to take action.

In this post, I highlight my favorite dog-eared pages that will assist my idealist readers regardless of age.

Patterns of Reinvention

I find that people get caught up in the details and obstacles of career reinvention way too early.

I get emails all the time, asking me if they need to go back to school or should cut back their current work to part-time before they’ve even identified what they want to do next in their careers.

For that reason, I think it’s helpful to get a big picture of what Alboher calls “patterns of reinvention.”  The point isn’t to figure out which one is best for you right now, but to realize you have options.  For example, you could:

  • Circle back– Maybe you started training for a career, but never went through with it.  Maybe you always harbored dreams of becoming a writer or coach for a living.  Now could be a great time to circle back on those ideas.
  • Elevate a hobby– If you’re willing to do something for free, wouldn’t it be that much better to get paid for it?  The best way to answer that question may be to try it.
  • Change orientation– Has your career experience changed your views and opinions on certain subjects?  That perspective and prior experience might a killer combo in a new career.
  • Follow a new interest– It’s not uncommon to hear about people changing careers after a life-altering event. For example, I once interviewed a waitress who became so passionate about the treatment immigrant workers experienced in her industry, she decided to go to law school to fight for their rights.
  • Add something new– You might find creative ways to combine a new passion with your current career. For example, my driving instructor here in the UK told me he lost interest in his career until he decided to expand his work to teaching those with disabilities (like the deaf and blind).  That new twist was the spark he needed to love his career again.

Networking and Informational Interviews

I think the chapter on networking justifies the cost of the book alone.

This section is incredibly practical, giving you scripts for various situations and personalities.  For example, how to talk about being laid off when you meet someone new or how to handle gate-keepers when you’re cold calling a big whig in your field.

More importantly though, it talks about what you’re really trying to achieve with networking in the first place.  Without this big picture, all the tactics in the world won’t help you.

One of the things I love about the book is the generous sprinkling of case studies to illustrate how you can apply the advice in the book.  For example, Alboher talks about how David Buck, a laid off real estate project manager found his new calling at the age of 46.

After doing a lot of introspective work, Buck zeroed in on an interest in working with older adults, but didn’t have any more clarity than that.  “On a lark,” he called a local newspaper reporter who covered issues related to aging and asked what was going on in the community.  Buck got the lowdown on activities he wasn’t aware of, and also got a list of key players.

That led to a discussion with a nonprofit leader, who mentioned what was missing from the niche.  So Buck worked up an idea to solve that problem, and ultimately got the nonprofit leader to help him launch SHiFT, “a Minneapolis-based network for people in mid-life transitions who seek greater meaning in life and work.”  It’s a good demonstration of how one seemingly small investment can lead to another, and ultimately one’s life work.

The rest of the chapter covers topics like informational interviews, expanding your network in new career fields, and how to effectively use the internet to explore opportunities.  In fact, one of the great things about the book is the plethora of curated web resources, like idealist.org or sites for finding health insurance while in transition.

“Not-only-for Profit” Entrepreneurs

Stories like this one from successful entrepreneur Corbett Barr, about how his start-up nearly led to a breakdown and financial ruin, are too few and far between.

Which is why it may come as a surprise that I recommend career changers give entrepreneurship a try, even if they already know they want a more traditional job in the long term.  The insights you’ll get are invaluable.  For example, learning how to understand your target market is at the heart of writing a good resume or nailing an interview.

Alboher doesn’t try to scare you, she tries to arm you with information.  Her take on entrepreneurship is unique because she champions business ideas that do more than just earn money, but also advance a cause.  And it turns out that may be just what you need to put entrepreneurship in perspective and survive the emotional roller-coaster that comes with running a business for a living.

The book walks you through the traits you’ll need to make it as a full-time entrepreneur and has lots of examples of how others creatively found a business idea they believed in.  She also provides ideas for how to fund your start-up and how to define success in a venture with a social mission.


If you’re 50 or older and the idea of full-on retirement brings on a sense of panic (either because you can’t afford it or you know you’d get bat-crazy bored), getting a copy of this book is a no-brainer.

If you’re in your 30’s and 40’s and find yourself wanting more from your work, you’ll still find this a good resource.  It’s not the kind of book you’re going to want to read straight through–it truly is a handbook.  But I found Alboher’s perspective to be unique and the case studies inspired a more creative look at how to design a career.  In fact, I even got a new business idea for myself.

I think everyone should be thinking about an encore career, one that makes you feel good about yourself and your work.   And you need to start thinking about it long before you intend to act on it.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting until a crisis (either a lay-off or another job offer) to think about what they really want and how to get it.

The Encore Career Handbook will give you an action plan, lots of examples to emulate, and resources to help put you back in the driver’s seat of your career.  You can pre-order the book now.  It will be released December 18th–a great gift idea for those who value meaning more than another gadget.

Editor’s Note: I am planning to add to the Essential Reading series by reviewing other books of relevance to career changers.  Past reviews include Jonathan Fields’ Uncertainty and 5 Books Every Career Changer Should Read.  I’d love your feedback and suggestions for books you’d like to see in future reviews.