Margit Novack

“Are you still working?” I hear this question more and more, sometimes from people my age, sometimes from folks who are younger. It bothers me, because it feels as if there is more than curiosity behind the question; it feels like judgment.

Society seems to have preconceived notions of what we should be doing at a certain age, and I don’t like being pigeon-holed into someone else’s stereotype. As a young woman, I was supposed to be a teacher or a nurse, because they were “good jobs for women.” I was supposed to live in an apartment until I got married. I was supposed to get satisfaction from cleaning, cooking, and running a household. The problem with stereotypes is they assume all people are alike because of their gender, their age, or for any reason.

Personally, I don’t play tennis or mahjong. I am not part of a book group. I hate all things domestic. I don’t think I will do well at retirement, as it is currently defined. Some articles suggest taking time — from several months to several years — to find your retirement purpose. Others say, don’t retire from something, retire to something. This has appeal. I like being driven. I could find something new to be driven by. But why should I find something else to put my time and energy into, when I can put my time and energy into what I already do?

Actually, I am not just driven, I am purpose-driven. That’s why Encore.org speaks to me. Encore.org was founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur Marc Freedman. Its goal was to redefine later life and shift the idea of retirement as freedom from work, to freedom to work and contribute in new ways and to new ends.

Encore focuses on the role of purpose in later life, and in 2005 created The Purpose Prize. The Purpose Prize honors social entrepreneurs over 60 who combine experience, purpose, and passion to make a difference in their communities and the world. “It’s not a lifetime achievement award,” says Encore. “These folks are just getting started.”

Now THAT’S a view of later life that appeals to me. As I read the stories of each honoree, I was humbled by the passion, determination and accomplishment of so many people who refused to accept the prevailing view of what later life is supposed to look like. There is a Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” These honorees did more than contribute their individual time; they created organizations and programs that empower others to work for a better good.

I’ve decided to join the Encore Network: “Show your leadership and get in on the ground-floor as we build the encore movement.” I’ve come to realize that I am a ground-floor kind of person. I was in on the ground-floor of the women’s movement. I was in on the ground-floor of Senior Move Management. The ground-floor is a really exciting place to be.

By Margit Novack

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