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A New Great Migration

In 2011, Marc Freedman ’80 published The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, his book on encore careers. An excerpt from chapter one follows.

We’re in the early stages of a great migration, but it is not the old retiree migration that literally saw millions travel from North to South, from cold, drizzling places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Oregon to warm, recreational states like Arizona and Florida. The new migration is across time and the life course, as tens of millions (8,000 a day, one every 10 seconds, are turning 60) reach the spot where middle age used to end and old age once began, the new territory where a resurgent purpose gap, and gulf in identity, stands.

Opportunity is there as well. The surge of people into this new stage of life is one of the most important social phenomena of the new century. Never before have so many people had so much experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it. That’s the gift of longevity, the great potential payoff on all the progress we’ve made in extending lives. Realizing these possibilities will require the courage to break from old and familiar patterns that once were our friends but just don’t work any longer.

What we’re facing is not a solo matter; it’s a social imperative, an urgent one that must be solved as the great midlife migration gathers scale and momentum. Inventing a new stage of life is a conscious decision that won’t happen by itself, easily or automatically, even as the soil becomes more fertile and conditions increasingly ripe.

If we act, the new stage could well become a destination, even the new crown of life, and the individuals flooding into it the human-capital solution to much that ails us in this society. As we confront significant challenges in areas like education, the environment and health care, this windfall of talent could help carry us toward a new generation of solutions.

We are in the position to make a monument from what used to be the leftover years, a second chance for people of all stripes to ascend the ladder of contribution and fulfillment, and an opportunity for society to “grow up” along with its population.

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