Posted 05/13/2009 - 09:16:13am by john nelson
Encore careers combine continued income, social impact and personal fulfillment. But while it's relatively straightforward to calculate continued income and even possible to measure social impact, it’s more difficult to know, in advance, if an encore career will provide personal fulfillment.
We humans often imagine that something will make us happy and then discover it doesn’t. To help us out, the emerging field of positive psychology uses rigorous research methods to study experiences like happiness and fulfillment.
One of the most prominent researchers is Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. Seligman suggests that there are three distinct paths, or approaches, to happiness. Travel down those three paths to predict whether a particular encore job is likely to bring you personal fulfillment.
The first path to happiness is simple pleasure, or enjoyment. When you imagine doing the job each day, does it seem like lighthearted fun? Would the activities interest you, and lift your spirits, moment by moment? If your prospective coworkers look like a friendly bunch, that’s also a good sign. But while enjoyment is the most obvious path to happiness, it’s not the only one.
The second path to happiness is engagement, or relaxed concentration. It happens when a job uses your skills and strengths so completely that you lose track of time. While you’re immersed in this type of challenge, it doesn’t feel like fun or enjoyment. But when it’s over, you say, “Wow! That was great!”
Would the encore job you’re considering offer enough challenge for you, or would it become boring?
On the other hand, too great a challenge becomes stressful. It’s not the size of the challenge, but the fit between the challenge and your skills and interests. Would you be using skills you already have from other jobs, or would you need to learn new ones? Either way, when you use skills that are related to a deeper part of yourself—your underlying strengths of character—you’re more likely to find engagement.
The third path to happiness is meaning, or a sense of purpose. This becomes more important to many of us as we mature. A sense of meaning usually comes from contributing to something greater than ourselves. Compare your own values to those underlying the job. Are they in alignment? If so, you could be on the path to meaning and purpose.
Of course, while you’re actually making that contribution, it might not feel enjoyable, and it may not even be engaging, certainly not all the time. But in the end, you feel your contribution is valuable.
Now that you know about all three paths, you can better evaluate different encore opportunities. Would the job be fun? Would it be engaging? Would it be meaningful? It could even be all three — a trifecta!
Using this approach, you need not settle for “just” continued income and social impact. You can have personal fulfillment, too.
John Nelson is the coauthor of What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement with Richard Bolles. He has been a consultant and speaker on retirement planning for 20 years.