Volunteering—the New Career for Baby Boomers

A few weeks after receiving a Public Service Medal honouring his contribution to human rights policy and law in Australia during his 26 years at the Human Rights Commission, David Mason resigned. Resigned from an organisation that for a quarter of a century fulfilled his need to secure greater social justice for marginalised groups of Australians. 

It sounds simple and it was, in practical terms. ‘At first, it’s elating to make that decision after so long in the one place, but it’s wrenching,’ he says. ‘What’s next? When you leave an office you’ve worked in for 26 years, you lose a large part of your social life, the routine you’ve followed for nearly half of your life is no more. It’s isolating to wake up each morning and wonder how you’ll spend the day, fill the time . . .  on your own.’ 

This is the reality for many baby boomers as they reach retirement age. David has a message for you if you’re in this category—the volunteer sector is your next career step. ‘You have to make the decision to get started,’ David says. ‘Start what? How? When there are no meetings to give you structure, no senior management team to give you direction, how do you begin? What’s the first step? The second? What should I do today? Tomorrow? You could spend the rest of your life trying to decide what to do and then you’d never get started. There’s been so much philosophical discussion of what makes a good life. In my view, it’s certainly not one spent trying to decide what to do.’ 

David has found the move into the voluntary sector affirming to find he has some transferable skills. His advice to you if you are in his situation: ‘In terms of a take out for anyone transitioning from their career—putting yourself into a role that’s different gives you a chance to discover transferable skills, have satisfaction in exercising your skills in different ways. It’s a tremendous opportunity to develop new aspects of your portfolio of skills. If it takes you into territory where you haven’t already done it, or you aren’t completely confident—just do it and then you will have experience.

As he enters his third year of voluntary work, David encourages anyone contemplating a transition out of the paid workforce to embrace opportunities that come your way. ‘Or create your own opportunities,’ he says. ‘Step into the unknown, confident you have transferable skills acquired through decades of hard work, skills that will stand you in good stead in the voluntary sector or wherever you choose to invest your energies. And write your memoir, so others can learn from your experiences.’

Gabriella Kelly-Davies

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