Jere Brooks King: Redefining Retirement for Herself and Others

Jere King Portrait 2014Jere King is speaking from personal experience when she tells you there is more to retirement than sitting on the porch or playing golf every day. “At the age of 56, I wasn’t ready to retire in the traditional sense.  I was ready for a chance to reimagine what my next career would be. ”

In 1977 when Jere graduated from Kalamazoo College with a liberal arts degree, she thought she would have a career in medicine or education.  When weighing her options, a family friend (a physician) advised against pursuing a medical degree. “He said, ‘it’s a huge commitment, and the medical field may soon become very bureaucratic … why don’t you try something else first just to make sure there’s nothing you are missing out on?” And it was hard to find a teaching job at the time.

Encouraged by the president of a local software company, King went to work for a burgeoning IBM. “The high technology field was creative, innovative, growing, and fast paced.”  Thoughts of public service vanished quickly in the golden era of technology, where King forged a path as a skilled technology marketer at a range of high tech companies – first IBM, later SDRC and Autodesk.  She even got an MBA along the way before finally landing at Cisco Systems in 1996.

King had what she describes as “a fabulous career” at Cisco, grateful for being part of one of the most influential and high-profile companies of the Internet Age.  She liked the work and her colleagues, but as 2012 approached, King started thinking about retirement…but not in the traditional sense.

“I thought, ‘I’ve had a great career, but I need something different.  I wanted to spend more time with my family and work fewer hours, but I also wanted to contribute back and do something for the local community.”

She was determined to shape a second act for herself, one where she could return to one of her early career aspirations. “I needed to return to where I was when I got out of college and transition into public service. I had already served on several nonprofit boards.  Perhaps my best work was still ahead of me.”

As luck would have it, someone else had the same idea in mind for her. Literally on her last day at Cisco, a colleague approached King and asked,  “Have your heard of the Encore Fellowship Program?” King had not but was intrigued by what she heard. An Encore Fellowship is a one-year program for those who have been in long-term careers and have a desire to engage in the nonprofit world. The program offers a structured “bridge” to the nonprofit world by facilitating a 1000-hour internship supported by a $25,000 stipend.

King investigated the program, and – when she learned more – jumped at the chance. Many of the people in the Encore program were like King and had retired from corporate careers, or just had a deep desire for a significant change and needed support through the process.

After considering a number of worthy local organizations, King was placed with Abilities United, a Palo Alto non-profit that has been working on inclusion programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities for 50 years. It was a mile and a half from King’s house and everything she had hoped it would be – giving back and playing an active role in her own community.

She began her fellowship in February of 2012 and completed her 1000 hours of service nine months later. “With all my years in the high tech sector, I had the executive skill set to lead the design and completion of many projects effectively. Still, I had to learn the ropes within the nonprofit world, with its wide range of stakeholders and strong mission orientation. It was at times both frustrating and exhilarating to be charting new waters.”

Upon completion of her internship, King continued with Abilities United as a member of the Board of Directors

For King, the internship proved to be invaluable in helping her launch what she calls “the next stage of life.” Rather than being retired, King views this as “life reimagined” – a movement that’s gaining traction as life expectancy increases, and people have a desire to stay in the workforce longer.

This year, Stanford University approached King to ask if she would serve as an advisory board member for their inaugural Distinguished Careers Institute.

“It’s a year-long residential program of personal renewal in an academic setting for those who have already experienced a successful 20–30 year career,” says King of the Stanford DCI program.  With the inaugural class beginning in January of 2015, King is helping Stanford recruit 20 Fellows who will spend a year on campus while attending classes, shaping their own curriculum, and networking with luminaries about how people with “distinguished careers” can embrace new fields and help change the future.

King remembers what someone said to her when she took early retirement from Cisco to participate in the Encore Fellowship program. “What? You’ve had a long successful career in high tech, and you’re shifting into nonprofit? You should go relax and take a break.”

There are rich rewards in launching a second act. Lucky for Abilities United and all the future fellows of Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute.

Tips from Jere King

  • Rethink what retirement means for you.  Start now!  The accepted norms around length of career and age of retirement are changing fast.
  • Reimagine a second act that gives you the chance to pursue your passions.
  • Realize that what we regret most in life is not what we did, but what we did not do – so go for it!

If you are interested in the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, which is currently accepting Fellows for its inaugural 2015 program, you can learn more at www.dci.stanford.edu If you would like to try an Encore Fellowship, be sure to visit the www.encore.org site.

If you have more questions or comments, add them below and we’ll be sure to get them answered.

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