true WELLth Podcast: Marci Alboher Episode Transcript

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Announcer:

The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones. Brighton Jones is the financial wellbeing firm that helps you align your wealth, your passions, and your purpose. Learn more about how you can live a richer life at BrightonJones.com.

Marci Alboher:

I always thought there were two kinds of jobs in the world and have a young friend who’s a cop and he and I always talk about how the biggest difference in his work and my work is that he has this job that’s like dangerous. It requires him to be never multi-tasking. To be completely present, when he’s present. And to incredibly focused and then the minute he leaves work, he doesn’t even have to think about it. It’s done.

Marci Alboher:

I have a job that is exactly the opposite. My job doesn’t involve any personal danger. I have a lot of flexibility about where and how I could do my job and it completely bleeds into every other aspect of my life. I can’t have boundaries around it. I never feel like I’m off.

Manisha Thakor:

My guest today is Marci Alboher. Marci, one of the nation’s leading authorities on career issues and workplace trends, is a vice president at the innovative non-profit Encore.org. Marci’s current focuses on the power of connecting, collaborating, and innovating across the generations.

Manisha Thakor:

A former blogger and columnist for The New York Times, Marci’s latest book, The Encore Career Handbook: How To Make A Living And A Difference In The Second Half Of Life, was hailed as an invaluable resource by the Associated Press.

Manisha Thakor:

Marci is also the author of One Person/Multiple Careers: The Original Guide To The Slash Career, which popularized the term “slasher,” to refer to those individuals who can’t answer the question, what do you do? With a single word or phrase. She also created the “Shifting Careers” column and blog for The New York Times and the Working the New Economy blog for Yahoo! Marci’s articles have appeared in scores of national publications, including The Washington Post, Time Out New York, Traveling Leisure, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and More magazine.

Marci Alboher:

I spent the first decade of my career as a lawyer and it was something I stumbled into. I don’t think it was ever a really good fit for me and I’m in my thirties, I made a career change to become a journalist which was really, I think, my life’s passion. I had to do a lot of retraining to make that transition and it felt really hard to do that.

Marci Alboher:

I worked with a coach a little bit. I found mentors. I took a lot of classes and by the time I made this transition and I transitioned full time to becoming a journalist, I got so fascinated with the idea of career transition and how hard it is and how people evolve, that I spent the next decade of my years as a journalist, focusing on career issues and career transitions and how the world of work is changing and the future of work. So I feel like living through that got me very interested in how the world of work is changing and how we have to constantly change to keep up with that.

Manisha Thakor:

So Marci, to leave a high powered legal career is no small thing. What else did you have to “get over,” so to speak and what was running through your head as you made this decision?

Marci Alboher:

I mean, a couple of things. I think law is an example of a career that you invest a lot to become a lawyer. I did a lot of training and there was a certain amount of status that maybe came with that. I was the first in my family to graduate college and there’s kind of a lot of pressure from my parents to have a certain kind of professional life and I felt in a way that I was abandoning that and so I had to kind of get over that.

Marci Alboher:

I also took a huge decrease in earnings when I made that transition. I wanted to do work that felt more socially valuable and more meaningful to me and more meaningful to the world than the kind of law I was doing and I still have never recovered my earning capacities from when I made that shift.

Manisha Thakor:

When you took a hit to your earnings, did you take any kind of hit to yourself concept?

Marci Alboher:

It’s interesting. I think I had to do some mental work to reframe that. I think I grew up in a culture where money meant a lot of things and when I became a journalist, I think I encountered a lot of people who didn’t make decisions always based on the financial factors. I met a lot of people who went into journalism as a calling, as a public service and who don’t necessarily make decisions based on the highest earning potential.

Marci Alboher:

I now work in the non-profit sector and that’s true in that field as well. So I think I had to do a lot of reframing for myself and question some of the values that I was raised with.

Manisha Thakor:

What’s striking is that this concept of separating self-worth from net worth is not necessarily new. The idea was briefly debated in Plato’s Republic, 2,400 years ago.

Manisha Thakor:

As the story goes, Socrates is trying to decipher what the true excellence of a thing is. He felt inanimate objects are pretty easy to discern. For example, a knife, which use resulted in an excellent cut, is a good knife and a dull knife is a bad knife. Likewise, an eyeball with excellent eyesight is definitely more excellent, so to speak, than an eyeball that is blind.

Manisha Thakor:

These assessments to Socrates are pretty cut and dry but when their logic is refocused on how we categorize our fellow human beings and our own identities, even Socrates got tied up in knots pretty quickly. Consider the life of a shepherd. Do we judge the shepherd on their ability to take care of sheep or in their ability to make money selling wool? The same could be said today for the field of medicine. Do we judge the excellence of a doctor on their ability to heal or on how much money they’re able to earn?

Manisha Thakor:

In the views of Socrates, this is not to say that the accumulation of wealth is in any way bad, nor that you should focus your career on the pursuit of excellence in one particular discipline. Rather, in Socrates’ mind, we should consider categorizing the accumulation of wealth on its own and service to the art of making a living. So fast forward to modern times and what happens when we find ourselves tied up in multiple identities as a result of pursuing excellence in a range of different areas and disciplines? Marci enlightens us with her idea of a slash career.

Marci Alboher:

The idea of the slash career was that we’ve all always known about the idea of people who moonlighted or people who had multiple identities. There was always kind of the rent Renaissance person, but what was starting to happen is that people were really beginning to come out about the fact that they had dual identities, professional identities, and it was starting to be a thing that had some caches. So, I’m a engineer/violinist, or I am a website developer/interior designer and it started in Hollywood of course, with actor slash director slash writer. And we started to see with the rise of virtual work, it was the beginning of the .com era that it was possible to have a whole work identity that you did outside of your day job or a whole identity that you did on your own schedule. Now people call these side hustles and the gig economy didn’t even exist in those days. This was before Airbnb and Uber and all of that.

Marci Alboher:

So I think what’s interesting to me is when I wrote about that, I was just putting a name on something that had been called a portfolio career or a moonlighting career before and now there are of course, many other names, hyphenates, side hustles. There’s always kind of a new version of it out there and I think what’s interesting now is I think younger people just naturally think this way. It is not considered an unusual concept, I think in certain circles. Everyone has a side hustle and they don’t hide it from their employer often. So that was real. That’s been a really big difference from what it was like when first wrote about that concept.

Manisha Thakor:

Marci back when you were writing about this for The New York Times and really bringing this concept of the slash career to national consciousness, what were some of the “big why’s” you noticed amongst people who were working in this manner and experiencing, or said slightly differently, was it a desire to have one career to make money and another career for purpose? Or was it as simple as people having two separate interests?

Marci Alboher:

So there was always, I always looked at it as there were a few different models of how you could slash. Right? So there was like what I would call like the left brain, right brain approach, where you did something that was very, let’s say analytical for one thing and then something that was very creative. So there are a lot of combinations like that. You see the buttoned up, the CPA, who’s also a personal chef or something like that. Then there’s what I call the anchor and the orbiter. So you have a day job, you have something that you do in kind of traditional hours and then you have what today might be called a side hustle or a passion project where you had an artistic endeavor or you were a yoga instructor or a massage therapist, or a Reiki practitioner. You did that around the edges and for many people, by the way, that was their fantasy that they moved to doing that work full time when they could afford to.

Marci Alboher:

I think also in the era when parenting became so much more consuming than it’s been in the past, I think many people in the intensive parenting years would identify themselves as a parent/something because of the huge demands on time, because of the community work that goes along with being an active parent, so many different models.

Manisha Thakor:

Marci, in the past you shifted your focus from slash careers to now the concept of an encore career. Can you tell us a bit more about what an encore career is?

Marci Alboher:

Encore career really has to do with the demographic shift of moving to an increasingly older society and this huge wave of baby boomers who are working longer, living longer, than prior generations and it’s opened up a new chapter of work that is where traditional retirement used to sit and that was really fueled by the idea that a lot of people wanted to have another act and often wanted to use their skills and experience to make a difference in the world. So the idea of the Encore career was to think about a later life work chapter, that’s all about social impact but also could continue to provide an income.

Manisha Thakor:

What are you seeing in terms of the reason people are making this kind of shift? Any specific trigger?

Marci Alboher:

I think there are many, many ways you can get to what I call an encore moment. So many people after, 25 or 30 years, they just burn out. They’re ready for something new. There are people who, for whom it’s involuntary. They hit the end of the line in wherever they are. Their job has been eliminated. Their industry goes through a complete turmoil. Obviously we’re living in a moment right now where many, many people’s jobs are going to be eliminated and I think it’s going to have a disproportionate impact on older workers. And there are people who like me, I call my early encore moment, have a crisis of conscience, where they’re doing work and they say, well, life is short. Is this all there is? I want to do something that has social impact, that’s going to help the world in some way. A really, really common reason that people move into an encore career.

Manisha Thakor:

How do you think these ideas will be reshaped by the current COVID-19 crisis? Anything else bubbling up for you?

Marci Alboher:

I think so many of us are adding slashes and each time we do that, we are making ourselves a little more employable, by adding another dimension to who we are. I think there are lots of people who are realizing that if they have a skill that they can turn to when the economy shifts, they’re in better shape, they have something they can do. Like if they’re not going to get another full time job, they can turn to consulting or they can turn to a whatever. They could do a interior design or construct websites or whatever it is that is an extra thing that you do and I think in tough economic times, having some slashes in your pocket is very useful and I think people are also going to have a lot of time on their hands.

Marci Alboher:

People are having that now, even if they are working. They don’t commute anymore. If they’re not at home or in a caregiving role or schooling children, those people actually don’t have a lot of time, but there’s a category of people who have time on their hands, their work has been cut or eliminated, or they’re not commuting. I think we’re going to see a lot of people who are going to jump in and take classes and get a new certification or get a skill that they’ve always been wanting to get that will hopefully provide some new employment possibilities for when we come out of this.

Marci Alboher:

I think for the older workers, I think this is playing out really differently by age. I think in some ways the hardest hit are those young people who are just entering the job market now and really trying to figure out who is hiring and how they’re going to get that first rung on the ladder and I think they older workers who lose their jobs right now are really worried that there may not be another job out there. So I think this is really challenging moment and one thing we all have to do is figure out how we can support one another.

Manisha Thakor:

So what can people our age and by that, I mean, 50 and older, do to prepare for the possibility of prolonged unemployment and financial hardship?

Marci Alboher:

I think the very first thing gets to the name of your podcast. I really think this idea of reframing that we started out with at the beginning of the conversation, is really important, I think. I think we’ve all had meaningful conversations in the current moment where we’re spending more time at home. Many of us are having a different relationship with home, with cooking or with kind of returning to perhaps a simpler life. I know that I feel like I have so much more in common with some of my older relatives. I call them on the weekends where we’re doing the same things. What are you cooking? And what are you reading? I’m not running out and going out a lot. There is a weird return to a simpler time. We’ve all realized we’re also spending less money. We’re buying fewer things,

Manisha Thakor:

Marci, you’re on the leadership team of Encore.org, which is this completely cool, innovative organization. Can you tell us a bit about what Encore does?

Marci Alboher:

Sure, sure. So we’re a national non-profit and our mission is to bridge generational divides and to find ways to create a better future together, in ways that help people of all generations and we start from a place of recognizing that we are an increasingly more old than young society. So our work grew out of thinking about how do we look at older people as an asset and not as a problem and increasingly over the years that work has moved to be much more about bridging generational divides.

Marci Alboher:

This work feels very personal. It is, when I was a lawyer, I used to always say like I had this job and when I left, I really never thought about it. I never wanted to think about it. It really felt like a job. I was just moving work along. The work I do at Encore, I think about it all the time and I see opportunities and connections all the time. So I think for me, the biggest transition has been about what does it feel like to have a life that feels very holistic, where what I’m reading for pleasure is very connected to the work I do each day.

Manisha Thakor:

So what is the age cohort that Encore is seeking to make this kind of shift? Is it say late forties, early fifties on the lower side and some other number on the upper side?

Marci Alboher:

We don’t like to really kind of define this by age. It’s much more like stage. I mean, when we talk about an Encore career, we’re really talking about people who are wrapping up their primary career and thinking about what’s next. So what has happened is really there is this new stage of life that has opened up between kind of midlife and older age and it could last from your fifties to your seventies. That’s kind of what we’ve always looked at as like an of the Encore stage of life.

Manisha Thakor:

Encore was really at the forefront of popularizing this idea of seeing extended life as a time for purpose and for older people to be recognized and honored as assets to society and a big part of your work focus, therefore is on helping people and organizations bridge generational divides. How did that focus come about?

Marci Alboher:

So what we realized after doing the line of work in this space. So we did things like we ran a social innovation prize called the Purpose Prize and over the course of 10 years, we gave away $5 million to social entrepreneurs over the age of 60. The reason we did that is we wanted to tell a new story about what innovation looks like, so that you didn’t just think of innovators as tech entrepreneurs but you thought of them as, Oh, what if we add a retired physician who figures out how to solve a disease or a retired social worker who figures out, how do we not separate siblings in the foster care system? So these are kind of everyday heroes who are older people who are just using their life experience in a way that solves a major social problem.

Marci Alboher:

Out of that idea came the Encore career, came another program we run called Encore Fellowships, which I like to say, if you’ve ever seen the movie, The Intern, it’s like The Intern in real life. Although instead of like the Robert DeNiro character who works in a tech startup, our Encore fellows work in non-profits, so they are usually people who are retiring from the private sector who want to do something to have a social impact. So we have a one year fellowship to train people to make that kind of life transition.

Marci Alboher:

What we found from doing all of this work in the Encore Movement is that really the most pure incarnation of what an Encore career looks like is when you’re spending your time investing in the next generation and thinking about the connection between older people and those who come after.

Marci Alboher:

So we had launched this campaign called Gen to Gen, as in generation generation, where we try to identify ways that older people could stand up and show up for younger people or partner with younger people in social change efforts. That campaign was so resonant that it’s really almost took over our whole organization in a way and it became the ethos for everything we are interested in doing. So now we’re working on a new fellowship that is supporting innovators, social innovators, social entrepreneurs, who are working to bridge generational divide.

Marci Alboher:

So for example, where we’re looking for people who have startup ideas of ways to connect the generations in ways that would combat social isolation among older and younger people. So that’s kind of the new space that we’re occupying and actually the current pandemic has made that something that people understand a lot more readily than when we talked about it a couple of years ago.

Manisha Thakor:

I love many things about this conversation with Marci. Three that I’d highlight are, first the mindset shift to becoming excited about a second chapter in one’s life, rather than viewing age 50 or 60 or whatever the number is, as the peak of the mountain and it being all downhill from there.

Manisha Thakor:

Second, I love the notion of bringing together the varied generations for shared learning and perspective. I’m half Indian. My father came to the U.S. nearly 60 years ago for graduate school and we used to go back to India in the summers. One very vivid set of memories I have is the cultural reverence to elders. So the shift that Marci speaks of is one that has worked in the past and I’m excited from the standpoint of all humanity to see what that looks like going forward.

Manisha Thakor:

Third, I was really inspired by Marci’s boldness and leaving her legal career all those years ago, to move into work that was unexpected and brought her more joy. At the time she did this, it was a truly pioneering move and it reminded me of how far we’ve come in terms of allowing people to experience multiple stages of careers and ways of living and contributing.

Manisha Thakor:

As always in our show notes truewellthpodcast.com and that’s WELLth, W-E-L-L-T-H. We’ll have Marci’s full length bio, as well as links to her books and social media coordinates. Again, that’s true WELLth, W-E-L-L-T-H, podcast.com.

Manisha Thakor:

Lastly, if you know of someone who can benefit from listening to this episode, please take just a few seconds to use the share feature on your podcast player, to pass Marci’s insight along to them. I’m Manisha Thakor and that’s it for this episode of true WELLth.

Announcer:

The true WELLth podcast, made possible by Brighton Jones. Whether you want to save for the future or celebrate today, give back to the community, or explore the globe, Brighton Jones believes your values are every bit as unique as your fingerprints. Brighton Jones aligns your time and resources to those values, so you can go after the things that you truly care about. Explore your richer life at BrightonJones.com. Today’s episode was edited and produced by Stan Hall alongside the rest of our true WELLth team Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus, Lindsey Hurt, Tara McElroy, and John Dougherty. To get in touch with the team, visit trueWELLthpodcast.com.