I recently came across a 2011 TEDxWomen talk by Jane Fonda in which she discusses life's "Third Act." Now 75 years young herself, Jane explains the concept: Americans are, on average, living 34 years longer than their great-grandparents did, so those age 50 and older are, in essence, living a second adulthood.
She described aging as an opportunity to realize one's full potential, noting that she found most people over age 50 are less stressed, hostile or anxious than their younger peers. She even referenced studies that found they are happier.
But while lifespans have increased by a full three decades, our culture has not necessarily kept pace in addressing what this increased longevity means for our activities, professions and opportunities. Jane, in fact, crafted her talk to try to move the needle. She encouraged people to think philosophically about what a longer lifespan would mean for them, what attitude they would embrace and, perhaps most importantly, what they would do with the additional time allotted.
As president of Kauffman FastTrac, a global organization dedicated to providing the education, tools, resources and information to help entrepreneurs start and grow successful companies, I can't help but put an entrepreneurial spin on Jane's topic. If, potentially, we each get the gift of a third act, a second adulthood, might we use our second chance to shape careers as entrepreneurs?
This is not a new topic -- in fact, my colleagues and I have been talking about it for quite some time. But listening to Jane's talk cast new light on my assertion that more and more entrepreneurs are being minted in their third acts of life.
With people feeling healthier and living longer, coupled with a down economy that has, in many cases, reduced retirement savings, many Americans of traditional retirement age are choosing to continue working or even go back to work -- for themselves. Numbers bear out the trend. The 2011 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found the percentage of firms created by Americans ages 55 to 64 grew more than any other age demographic, up 6.6 percent to 20.9 percent in 2011 vs. 14.3 percent in 1996.
In many ways, their personal and professional experiences position members of the "Baby Boom" generation -- people born before 1965 -- to be successful entrepreneurs. Building on Jane's message, I truly believe that boomers can achieve even greater levels of happiness through entrepreneurship. Though startup success is never guaranteed, by carefully considering their financing options, gaining comfort with social media, and embracing intergenerational thinking in their business ventures, boomer entrepreneurs stand a greater-than-average chance of building sustainable, enduring businesses. And, they often carefully weigh their options, from traditional startups to franchises to takeovers of established firms.
Whether or not America is culturally ready for them, boomer entrepreneurs aren't waiting. They're redefining the marketplace as they bring a wealth of experience, talent and passion to the businesses they launch and grow. And, for those willing to take on business ownership for the first time, the payoffs can be many: added financial security, a chance to embark on a new chapter of life, an opportunity to transform a beloved hobby into a career.
To support these boomer entrepreneurs, Kauffman FastTrac is working hard to address their unique needs. We have compiled useful resources and created a tailored curriculum, and, in collaboration with AARP, our Affiliates in select U.S. cities will soon pilot specialized courses (in both English and Spanish) for boomers following the path to entrepreneurship.
Are you over age 50 and motivated to launch a business in your life's third act? I wish you the best, and I encourage you to explore what Kauffman FastTrac has to offer.
And, perhaps most importantly, I share this important word of advice: Be sure you are genuinely enthused about the product or service you plan to offer! If not, you may come to resent the demands the business puts on your time, compromising your chance at the happiness so many in their third act have come to enjoy. But if your product or service is the right one, your passion will sustain you through the inevitable tough times and enable you to enjoy a meaningful, fruitful life that others will admire.