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Columnist Janet Kidd Stewart.

Columnist Janet Kidd Stewart. (TNS)

Retirement experts often recommend working longer as a way to make savings outlive the saver, but it isn't always easy.

Burnout, age discrimination, health issues and new technologies that eliminate jobs or make veteran workers' skills outdated conspire against those who try.

There is a growing wave of hope, however, that saving the world - or at least taking a shot at making it a better place - may be the answer.

"Are people working well into their retirement years because they want to or need to? I think it's both," said Chris Farrell, senior economics commentator for American Public Media radio and author of "Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life." "They don't necessarily want to do the same thing they've been doing for 30 years, but they do want to do something they believe in."

Farrell's new book highlights several late-career changers who were motivated by some notion of finding a new value, or purpose, to their work. That didn't necessarily mean jobs in the non-profit sector. Often, they were entrepreneurial. The trick is finding work that engages the brain or the heart in some fundamental way, and often that means doing some good as we do well, he said.

Another recent book by Encore.org President Marc Freedman, "How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations," calls on the 50-plus demographic to connect with younger generations, or as the Greek proverb says to "plant trees under whose shade they will never sit."

Meanwhile, several university-based programs are creating learning communities for late-career professionals transitioning to new ventures, paid or unpaid. They all differ in cost, content and aim, but they encourage the notion of older workers redeploying skills or giving back in some way. Among them: Harvard (advancedleadership.harvard.edu), Stanford (dci.stanford.edu), University of Minnesota (umn.edu/umac), Notre Dame (ili.nd.edu) and University of Texas at Austin (towerfellows.utexas.edu). Stanford's application process has closed for this year, but the others are open.

Full disclosure: I'm participating in Minnesota's Advanced Careers Initiative this academic year, along with 15 others. The program's signature is an internship-type volunteer experience with a local organization.

"For many people these encore careers are a chance to do something meaningful with today's longer, healthier lifespans," said Phyllis Moen, founding director of the Minnesota program, which charges $15,000 for the academic year. Harvard's program, which costs $68,000, takes a full year.

Like any endeavor, there are challenges. Among them: designing curriculum and time schedules that appeal to both retirees and those still working, and getting campus communities used to dealing with older students.

Our Minnesota group includes Jeff Buchanan, 67, a former business consultant who in November won a seat on the Wayzata, Minn., city council. He's using the fellowship experience to inform the transition, studying ways to elevate environmental sustainability issues in his new role.

Sarah Meek, 60, is volunteering as a consultant to Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. The assignment is personal; four years ago, the veteran marketing executive was a stem cell donor for a family member.

After a long career in human resources with a large medical devices company, Anne Colombo, 60, is volunteering with Prepare + Prosper, a Minneapolis organization that offers free tax preparation for low- and moderate-income filers.

Meanwhile, at Harvard, Meredith Callanan is researching ways to improve early childhood education. Previously, the 55-year-old worked in leadership and marketing roles for a large financial services firm.

"We've now been doing this long enough to have created a global leadership force," said Meredith Rosenthal, who recently took over as director of Harvard's Advanced Leadership Institute. With nearly 300 program alumni who have participated in individual projects since 2008, she's exploring ways to re-engage them as a group around major social problems.

As Moen put it, "With these new time horizons in life, we're recognizing that at age 60 we might just be getting started, and we can take a risk on something that will bring personal renewal through something that also has a strong social mission."

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for Tribune Content Agency. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at journey@janetkiddstewart.com.

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