Bob Williams spent two decades climbing the ladder at Square D, an electrical equipment company based in Illinois, before he retired as vice president at the age of 41.
But the young engineer-turned-executive wasn't done working. He picked up his bundles of cash and bought a shop in Matthews, N.C., that sells baseball cards, comic books and sports memorabilia.
"It's the old work-hard, play-hard idea," he says.
While his position at Square D was fulfilling in its own right, Williams found himself constantly on the road with no quality time to spend with his family. He started collecting cards with his children -- a son, now 23, and a daughter, now 25 -- as a hobby, and parlayed that hobby into a new career when he left Square D in 1996.
"I had the greatest job in the world and was grossly overpaid," he says. "But there was a lot of stress associated with the high-profile job. With as much travel as I was doing, I just wanted to spend time with my family."
Williams is not alone. A recent study by MetLife (MET) and Civic Ventures, a group dedicated to Baby Boomer issues, found that at least 5.3 million Americans have already launched such "encore careers," which combine income and self-fulfillment. Of workers ages 44 to 70 who are not already in encore careers, half are interested in pursuing one. Most encore jobs fall into the education, health care or nonprofit sectors.