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Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life


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Review of Encore, by Marc Freedman (Hardcover, 2007)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

In massive numbers, pre-retirement baby boomers are making radical career changes. But also in massive numbers, retired boomers (and others who retired just ahead of them) are radically redefining retirement. The consequences of these changes are profound and far-reaching. The six chapters of Encore provide an overview of the phenomenon. The 20-page appendix, titled "Your Encore," provides some thoughts about how you might define your own radical change to career or retirement.

Why radical career changes became popular

Most baby boomers have spent their working lives as "disposable workers." They put in long hours, hoping to escape "rightsizing," while repeatedly seeing phony promises of advancement not honored. When working in a system of "may be gone tomorrow" jobs, the question of "why am I doing this?" eventually comes up. "If my job isn't important, what does that say about me?"

Many boomers spent their careers watching company leaders reward people for political skill, rather than competence in the job they are paid to do. Those same leaders rewarded these "players" with bogus awards, outrageous perks, and compensation inversely related to performance. The message to the hard working, diligent, dedicated boomer is hardly positive. Consequently, most boomers no longer feel good about the political playground of the corporate world. During their careers, they have repeatedly found unwelcome lumps in the proverbial sandbox and know the fat cats in the C-suites put them there.

Is it any wonder that talented people are taking their toys and playing elsewhere? Or that we now have a critical shortage of qualified tradespeople, practitioners, and professionals? Boomers are, in general, finding respect and fulfillment in their work by changing careers.

Retirement is no vacation

Freedman discusses the fact that life expectancies are much longer now than they were a few generations ago. Longer life expectancy is one reason boomers work in retirement. Freedman says many are looking for something to do, after being cast out of the workforce due to their age. Freedman devotes considerable space to this aspect of retirement.

Amazingly, Freedman overlooks the economic fact that idle retirement is seldom an option today because Americans bear a tremendous tax burden--the highest among industrialized nations.

The cost that precludes true retirement

The Federal Income Tax is only a minor part of our total tax load and only one of the hundreds of ways we are taxed. You pay 121 taxes on a single loaf of bread. Our tax systems are so labyrinthine (by design) that most people have no idea how much they pay in taxes. So, I'm going to make it very simple. We pay for every dime of government spending, because that money has to come from somewhere. It doesn't grow on trees. Government spending = citizen tax load. This is a fundamental concept expounded upon by such luminaries in economics as the late Dr. Milton Friedman. But it's also just plain common sense.

Whether you pay via direct taxes or you pay via inflation (an indirect tax), you pay for every useless government program, every incompetent government agency, and every pork barrel "thanks for contributing to my campaign" spending measure enacted by your misrepresentatives in CONgress.

Let's look at some numbers. The United States does more military spending than the next five nations combined (mostly for non-defense purposes that Eisenhower identified in the 1950s). We presently have a $9 trillion current debt and we have another $50 trillion or so in unfunded obligations (e.g., Social inSecurity, Medifraud, etc.). And that's just at the federal level. There are roughly 90 million American taxpayers supporting nearly $60 TRILLION in federal debt--or $666,000 each. The $666,000 debt per individual is why most Americans must work until they drop. (According to some people, this is the 666 of the Book of Revelation).

Freedman recommends more government spending as part of the solution. But is it a good idea to pour gasoline on a fire, especially one that is as out of control as the federal spending problem?

What the employed are doing

Boomers (and those who have come behind them) have seen the folly of slaving away in hopes of a paltry raise and a meaningless promotion. They have seen something even more disheartening; Tom Rogers provides an example:

As CEO of Primedia, Tom Rogers vaporized $690 million in a matter of days by grossly overpaying for in October of 2000 (right after the dotcom crash hit full stride and the actual worth of wasn't much above zero). This boneheaded move caused the company's stock to drop from $34 to 76 cents in less than a week. During his tenure, Rogers managed to saddle the company with $2 billion of debt even though this load exceeded its combined assets and income by a considerable margin. The results included massive layoffs, compensation rollbacks for the rank and file, and sell-offs of key company properties. Yet Rogers still collected his multi-million dollar salary while doling out plush VP jobs to his incompetent, untrained, and inexperienced cronies.

How motivating and inspiring is such disastrous stupidity to the typical employee? Such scenarios play out across the corporate landscape time and time again. One idiot after another rakes in millions, while leaving a devastated company behind as he takes his multi-million severance and moves on to the next victim.

Such lunacy makes people see their workplace as an insane asylum. Many boomers, tired of commuting to the nuthouse each day, have found other ways to make use of their talents. One way boomers famously do this is through entrepreneurship. For many years, we have been reading about the rise of entrepreneurship in the business and financial literature. You may recall that a new record number of layoffs was set in each year from 1991 - 2002 (as reported in the Wall Street Journal and other business-related publications during those years).

From 1991 - 2000, the 30 Dow Jones index stocks did great. From that one bit of minor and irrelevant data, nonsequitor specialists absurdly conclude that the economy did well under Bill Clinton. In reality, it tanked because Clinton removed massive amounts of capital from our capitalist economy through taxation (Clinton passed the two largest tax increases in history), caused huge compliance costs via excessive regulation (the Federal Register expanded enormously on his watch), and abetted rampant government spending (pork reigned supreme then, as it does now).

While the Clinton economy was staggering, middle class wealth was evaporating, and layoff records were being set each year, colleges and universities began adding entrepreneurship programs because laid-off boomers were in a hurry to be entrepreneurs. Starting a business when nobody would hire you as an employee seemed like a good option. Boomers continue to take this option during the Bush administration's economy-bleeding spending spree.

If you've already established your own business or have found work with an employer that actually values you, then this book probably will just confirm that you're part of a growing trend.

But if you're stuck in a rut, this book will be helpful. If you're miserable in your job, get going. Read Encore, get your mind properly realigned, and then think seriously about what you really want to be doing in your waking hours. Remember, a human lifespan is but a blink. Find meaning while you are still able to go after it.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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