The Gap Year – It’s Not Just for College Kids Anymore: Mid-Lifers Get in on the Act

This year the last of the baby boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964)  are turning fifty. Or would Baby Boomerangers be more apt? Unlike the majority of their parents who, armed with traditional pensions, were willing and able to disappear into the proverbial sunset upon retirement, many Baby Boomers, upon retiring from one profession, simply move  into another.


In fact, as their life expectancy increases and traditional pensions become ever more rare, some baby boomers can’t afford to do otherwise.

A growing number of  Americans are opting for serial careers. They work in one field for twenty or thirty years and then leave it to start a business or to pursue a whole new profession. Before doing so, some take a  year off to explore their options or to get the education and training they need for what they call their second act  or encore career.

In its December 9, 2013 issue, The Wall Street Journal observed that, “More baby boomers are taking an extended leave from the working world. Their goal: to relax, re-energize and reflect upon what they want to do next – which often means heading down an entirely new and more fulfilling career path.”

As The Wall Street Journal suggests, it’s not always about the money. Some baby boomers can afford to retire, but cannot handle the thought of spending twenty years or more with no schedule to keep and  nothing productive to do.  Some of those who have already seen their children through college  and who have either paid off their homes or downsized to  less costly quarters, are trading in the high incomes they earn working long hours in high-pressure jobs for modest incomes doing something they love. At the same time, some of the people who have no need to supplement their retirement incomes are pursing volunteer work to give their lives fresh passion and purpose.

In its hard copy article, The Wall Street Journal provided a list of organizations that “can help those interested in taking a gap period to explore their next phase.” I’ve visited the listed organizations’ websites and am including links to and brief descriptions of the best ones below:

  •  Coming of Age helps people, age fifty and over, explore their futures and helps to connect them with opportunities, paid and unpaid, in their community.
  • offers guidance, job leads, and networking  for individuals pursuing encore careers to provide purpose, passion, and a paycheck for their second act.
  •  Meet, Plan, Go! publishes a Career Break Newsletter and sponsors meet-ups for mid-lifers planning on taking a break.
  • The Transition Network “is an inclusive community of professional women, 50 and forward, whose changing life situations lead them to seek new connections, resources, and opportunities.”  It hosts chapter events and conferences.
  • Encore Fellowships offers paid fellowships  which “match skilled, experienced professionals with social-purpose organizations in high-impact assignments .”   Fellowships normally last six to twelve months.
  • If you live in or are able to relocate to  Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative makes it possible for a select group of individuals  ” to jump-start their next career” by exchanging  ideas with their peers and with faculty, mentoring students, leading study groups, sitting in on relevant courses, and participating in field immersion trips.
  • If you missed out on joining The Peace Corps when you were in your twenties, it’s not too late. Five-percent of recruits are now fifty or older.
  • ReServe connects professionals, age fifty-five and older, with non-profit organizations that  need their expertise. “Many use their experience with ReServe to launch new careers in the nonprofit sector.” The Wall Street Journal indicated that ReServe pays stipends to older professionals who work with non-profit and public agencies, but I did not see anything about a stipend on the organization’s website.

If you’re seriously thinking about taking a gap year, The Online Wall Street Journal  offers a “Blue Print for Taking a Break

Not sure you can afford to or even want to  Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out  (Timothy Leary’s 1967 mantra)  for six months to a year?  You don’t necessarily have to take a break in order to pursue an encore career. Learn new skills or secure additional credentials by taking  college classes in the evenings, on the weekends, or online, or start a business on the side from home as you prepare yourself to do something new. And network. Contacts are everything.

 Eat, Pray, Work.

The fat lady can’t sing until you relinquish the stage.



One thought on “The Gap Year – It’s Not Just for College Kids Anymore: Mid-Lifers Get in on the Act

  1. Pingback: Age Discrimination Pushes Baby Boomers to Become Encore Entrepreneurs | Generation HR

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