Joe Wilson was a college teacher and administrator for 36 years and planned to stay in his career. “But a funny thing happened,” Joe remembers. “By the time I was 60 I was really tired of a safe life and routine. And I knew it would be wrong to stay longer than my passion lasted.”


Joe retired nine years ago at age 62 and his life has changed 10 unforeseen and unplanned times since then. “But I have a new sense of purpose,” Joe says. “It took 70 years but I’m rediscovering where I belong. Each time was nerve-wracking. I mean I was scared. I saw risk but couldn’t see the end results.”


Here are the changes that Joe experienced:


  1. “Students were as tired of me as I was of the routine. Early retirement wasn’t the plan, but at 62 I wanted something new.” Joe resigned from the tenured position, annuitized a 403(b) with TIAA, and took Social Security. He meant to make his 40-year hobby of freelance writing a new career and to develop a hobby of sports car racing at tracks across the Northeast.

  2. But it didn’t work. “I figured out I had to sell the sports car. As a racer, I was a walking cliché,” he says. “I was driving my second childhood.” But leaving the car just after leaving teaching left empty space he wanted to fill. “I’d made good changes, but purpose was still missing,” Joe explained.

  3. Joe’s marriage wasn’t working either. He worked with two counselors but saw that, while he and his wife were devoted parents, there wasn’t enough for them to share after the kids left the house. His divorce felt natural if painful. “It was a surprise to my family too, and I caused serious pain.” He insists the pain was part of a crucial step although “the responsibility and risk feels immense even today.

  4. The first step forward came, he says, when he “erased the slate” to move South. Joe moved to a university town in Georgia “where summers are joew_v3.jpglong and winters are warm.” He wanted a place for a new life, a place he didn’t know.” The small town environment has, he says, all the culture, conveniences and activities available through the university.

  5. As planned, he freelanced, but after 40 years as a writer and photographer, the deadlines made him balk. “Technology was galloping wildly, and I loved its learning curve, but deadlines worked against the time I needed to focus on building something new,” he said. So, he looked for a new path forward.

  6. In an online writing forum, a woman asked for an editor’s help. It was not, he insists, part of the plan, but it ended up tying him down again—joyfully. Joe credits his new wife’s “passion and work ethic and tolerance for risk” for inspiring him. “I shared her enthusiasm, but it took quite a long while for me to learn to trust and invest in her growth.” His new marriage became a new life …

  7. Joe had built and remodeled houses but wanted a new place to fit a new life. He plunged into learning about architecture and energy-efficient and sustainable construction. The couple bought a house to upgrade. His wife, a designer, made a surprising “contemporary modern” interior for what is, outside, a reproduction Victorian. “It’s every bit the contradiction I am,” Joe laughs.

  8. Joe admits he’d never been religious but always believed in God in a “lukewarm” way.  But he wanted to help his new wife find a community that would satisfy her strong passion for faith. She found a church to try and he decided to encourage her by attending a few times. Once again, he was surprised. “My first visit blew me away. I was actually speechless,” Joe recalls. A month later, he joined the church. “This time, my relationship with God is personal. I thought I was in control, but He’s been orchestrating all these risks and now I’m born again.” He reflects on the powerful experience: “I have a new purpose and a ‘home’ where I am fully myself.”

  9. The week’s schedule fills up much faster in a “church growing as fast as the neighborhood it’s in,” and Joe’s experience in financial management (for a town he lived in and for a college) serves to raise funds for the church’s expansion. “I actually look forward to it,” he smiles.

  10. In a university town, the pastor is devoted to a student ministry. Joe mentors students in the church. “Freshmen, graduate students, seniors, all are experiencing life changes they’re navigating. They want to talk to someone with experience. And boy do I have experience! I try to be useful.”

Joe enjoys good health but says his body lets him know he’s in his 70s. “It’s harder to get up in the morning, but I want whatever I’m meant to learn next. My reinvention seemed accidental as it happened, but all of it had a reason. I’m very thankful.”