Unretiring, with Passion

For some, retirement is about relaxing and traveling the world. For these women, it was about reconfiguring their lives and embarking on new career paths

by Alison Overholt
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Photograph: Big Cheese Photo/Aurora Photos

Her mother passed away in March 2011, and for the first time in years, Wooden was able to reflect on what, if anything, she wanted to do next. For several months she enjoyed a quiet retirement. Then she received an e-mail from a member of the board of Public Agenda asking her to meet with Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary. Jones was looking for someone to teach a course in advancing public change.

Wooden’s first instinct was to decline. She didn’t want to teach a subject in which she’d so recently been immersed. Then Jones mentioned that the school was offering the course only to students who would become ministers, and the idea of teaching future ministers made Wooden reconsider. She checked out the school’s website to learn more about the program and saw a major called Psychology and Religion. “I thought, Wow, this is what I want to do—spiritual counseling,” she says.

She applied to become a student and decided to teach the class on the side. Today, Wooden is finishing her second year at the Union Theological Seminary and plans to open a practice as a counselor for family-support programs as soon as she earns her M.A.

Wooden’s unretirement tip: Don’t plan on getting rich from unretirement.“This is the time to pursue your passion, not your skill set, and that usually means earning a lot less money than you did in your previous career.”

Juanita James, 61

Primary career: Executive at an S&P 500 company
Unretirement path: Head of a community foundation

As chief marketing officer for Pitney Bowes, Juanita James worked 14-hour days managing a staff of more than 40 executives. She also maintained what she calls a parallel career of working with nonprofit and community groups. James was passionate about her philanthropic pursuits and often thought about devoting herself to them full time. But with a special-needs son, Dudley Williams III, who was born premature and required years of therapy, along with medical bills that insurance wouldn’t cover, she needed her corporate paycheck.

That situation changed in 2010 when her son graduated from the Threshold Program at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which helps -special-needs students prepare for living independently. Suddenly, James had some decisions to make. “For the first time, there was a freedom not to feel bound by my corporate career,” she says.

So, at 58, she quit her job, intending to take a couple of years off to think about her next step. Shortly thereafter, James was recruited by newly elected Connecticut governor Dannel P. Malloy’s transition team and decided the allure of working in public service outweighed her need for a break. Several people familiar with James’s nonprofit board activities then recommended her to a recruiter looking to fill the CEO slot at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, which manages more than 500 funds that support nonprofit groups in the region. “My first reaction was, Wait a minute. I haven’t taken that break yet,” she says. “Then I thought, Timing never works the way you want it to. This is the ideal thing for me to do.”

James’s unretirement tip: Return on investment does not apply just to money. “Associate yourself with an organization whose core values are consistent with your own.”

ALISON OVERHOLT is a writer and an editor based in Montclair, New Jersey.

Next: Reinventing After You Lose Everything

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First published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue

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