Longevity: transitions and life-long learning

With increasing global life expectancy, we are shifting to longer careers and, for many of us, the desire or need to contribute beyond the typical retirement age. The three-stage linear life of education, work and retirement no longer fits. We are now living multi-stage lives. 

4 minutes

6/30/2022 10:33:59 PM
Stephen Classroom

Guest writer: Julia Randell-Khan, CEO Encore Fellows UK; Fellow, New Map of Life™, Stanford University, Center on Longevity 

With increasing global life expectancy, we are shifting to longer careers and, for many of us, the desire or need to contribute beyond the typical retirement age. The three-stage linear life of education, work and retirement no longer fits. We are now living multi-stage lives. 

As we move through these multi-stage lives, a key skill is to become good at transitions. It’s for this reason I have brought the successful US based Encore Fellowships programme to the UK. Encore Fellows UK matches those looking for a transition into the next stage of their working lives with a social purpose organisation. 

Figuring out what’s next  

My interest in transitions and longevity go back far beyond setting up Encore Fellows UK. I spent 30+ years’ in the legal field, and then, one day, it was time to draw the line and work out my “what next” in life. But how to do it? Where does one learn about how to transition and move through that liminal state of “betwixt and between” – an uncomfortable place moving from security to the unknown, where past identity is beginning to disappear but a new one has not yet been established? 

As I read the mid-life reinvention literature, I realized that a mid-life transition would require effort and a plan. I tasked myself with having conversations with people about future options – consulting, start-ups, other jobs, a portfolio career combining paid and volunteering work – at least one chat a week. In hindsight, I was instinctively doing one of the three tasks that one of the most popular classes at Stanford  University, “Designing Your Life,” advocates –“talk to people.” “Be curious” and “try stuff” are the other two things.  

For my next step I chose “back to school.” I joined a community of mid-life learners at Stanford University on a structured programme which promotes a rethinking of the concept of the life journey and seeks a path – a transition -- to a new social endeavour. 

Life long learning loops   

The Stanford programme recognizes that the longevity agenda requires access to education over the life course. Historically education has been front-loaded but as lives lengthen the need to deliver life-long learning increases. Learning may take the form of a series of “loops” over the course of a lifetime, also known as “career connected learning.” It does not stop when you leave school, college or university, as people live longer and need to earn and stay socially engaged over a longer period. 

Learning throughout life is and will be the new normal, demanding new ways to adapt and a new rhythm of learning, unlearning and relearning cycles. Navigational tools can help individuals and organisations assess skills gaps and learning needs. As we move forward, students’ relationships with educational institutions will become long term, not episodic, with an emphasis on an openness to continual reinvention throughout our longer lives as we handle multiple transitions. 

Experiential learning – the encore career 

Some of the transition programmes at Stanford offered experiential opportunities. A role with Encore.org gave me a chance to try out my skills in a new setting. Encore is a non-profit which taps the talents of the 50+ population in the US for social change, to change the story around ageing. As an Encore fellow, I helped build global connections drawing on the knowledge and experience from my legal working life. 

Now back in London, I have set up one of the Encore.org programmes, Encore Fellows, in the UK. As people reach retirement, we match them with high impact, 1000 hour projects in social sector organisations.  We also focus on the development curriculum to help equip people for purposeful transition and providing value and impact to the social sector. We are delighted that Now Teach will be one of the first partners as a host organisation for an Encore Fellow in the UK. It’s a natural fit, with both organisations advocating for life-long learning and multi-stage careers. 

Now Teach and the longevity agenda 

Now Teach is a brilliant example of supporting people to transition into a completely new career and retrain as teachers. Organisations such as Now Teach and Encore Fellows UK continue to advocate for education policy changes and support the delivery of government-led lifelong learning policies and employability skills programmes. But more data and research are needed about an array of educational models, including work/study programs, creative thinking, vocational training, the value of intergenerational classrooms and older people mentoring and helping to guide children in schools. 

Winds of freedom 

One of the drivers for my own transition when I left my career in law was the desire for freedom in designing my future. In my early days of transition thinking, I used a freedom themed password on my computer - FreeSoon***, FREE@DOM - a regular reminder not to let job demands freeze out my “what next?” thinking time. By complete serendipity, the unofficial motto of Stanford University,  by Ulrich von Hutten, a 16th century humanist, is “Die Luft der Freiheit weht” – where the wind of freedom blows. Transitions can be unnerving and challenging, needing humility and an openness to change but recognizing their inevitability and planning for them are the first steps in navigating a new course. 

"Learning throughout life is and will be the new normal."