Posted 07/02/2008 - 10:25:32am by Terry Nagel
David Buck of Minneapolis was feeling lost when he was downsized in 2006 from his job in real estate. Then he spoke with Jan Hively, who gave him a pep talk he won’t soon forget. “You’re no different from millions of other boomers out there who are seeking more meaningful work,” she told him.
The two of them decided to gather people together for conversations on options in later life, which have changed dramatically in recent years due to declining pensions and health care benefits.
The result is Shift, a community in which members identify and share their strengths and interests, providing a resource network for midlife career transitions. Based in Minneapolis, the group recently started a recruitment drive and now has 88 paid members toward its goal of having 100 members by August 1. In the past year, more than 2,000 people have attended Shift events.
Hively, 76, who is a Purpose Prize fellow and founder of the Minnesota Vital Aging Network, said the group fills a crucial need for people who are seeking meaningful work, paid or unpaid, in the second half of life. They generally fall into proactive and reactive groups: those who are looking for new challenges while still working or retired by choice, and those who are responding to external forces, such as being fired, downsized or divorced.
Shift forums occur twice a month and take place in a meeting space offered by the local Dunn Brothers coffeehouse. Featured speakers have included community activists, authors and entrepreneurs. Each talks about his/her own transitions, then audience members introduce themselves and offer their perspectives on the evening’s topic. That’s where the “magic” occurs, according to Hively. “People talk about the electricity that fills the room, the partnerships that occur,” she said.
In addition, Shift members are invited to join small groups called “Circles” for life-work planning sessions led by a facilitator. Each participant emerges from the three-week series with a personal action plan, as well as new friends who serve as a support system.
Members also are encouraged to form their own self-organized interest groups, and to use Shift’s Time Bank, a service that allows them to earn and spend volunteer hours for services such as computer training or carpentry or guitar lesson. The volunteer hours are logged on the organization’s Web site.
The Shift community’s support has inspired several members to pursue encore careers. For example, one woman who had been laid off from her job as a counselor with a private placement firm was recently hired for a key role with a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged women prepare for vocations. Her new job matches and fulfills her sense of purpose.
David Buck, who has been volunteering as the executive director of Shift, is pursuing a new career as a professional fundraiser as a result of conversations with others at Shift. “People see you and they mirror certain things back to you. Sometimes they see you in different ways than you see yourself,” he explained.
He and Hively have been asked to open new chapters of Shift, but they want to spend more time perfecting the model first, as a pilot for others. They are clear about the organization’s biggest strength: creating community.
The deep, rich conversations taking place at Shift meetings are a rare experience for many in our fast-paced society. One member, Brad Lynch, said, “The Shift concept is truly amazing. Connecting thoughts within the group expands creativity like nothing I have ever experienced. Ten thousand ideas result from each interaction.”