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Life has a funny way of taking us in a direction unforeseen. You may go to places you’ve never been or come back to somewhere you never thought you would. Winter Haven resident, Joel Carrier has learned to clasp life’s leading hand and embrace being present – wherever that might be.

Born in California, Carrier’s family moved to Iowa when he was just a baby. They made their way to Polk County when Joel was a teenager.  Starting out as a Political Science major at Florida State, Carrier instead opted for a degree in Communications. Following college, Carrier moved to Michigan where he would live for the next 30 years. He spent five years with a public relations agency, then in the promotion department of a Fox affiliate.

Joel came to the decision that he either wanted to live in a major market or become a freelance writer by the time he was 32. Taking the freelance writing route, Joel wrote for the Grand Rapids Press and its sister publications in Michigan. He flourished as a contract writer for Amway, becoming the lead writer in North America for their Artistry Skincare line, the fifth leading prestige brand in the world at the time. His portfolio includes the likes of fashion journalism, home and design writing, features, and human-interest pieces.

Carrier opened his 3400 square foot vintage home furnishing store in Grand Rapids, in 2000. He owned and operated the store for 13 years.  

Life pulled Joel in an unexpected direction seven years ago when he came down to care for his mother who was having a medical procedure. He traveled from Michigan with intentions to stay for one week. That week turned into the first year caring for his mom. She had a live-in caregiver, but Joel wanted to be there for her. When it became apparent he was going to be in Florida for a while, he decided to get a job. As a wine consultant for ABC, he was able to earn a living and have time to spend with his mother. She passed away two years ago.

“The five years I spent with my mom, I would not exchange those for anything,” expressed Joel.

The Next Chapter

Ready to invest in a different career, Joel decided to give real estate a go. “It has worked out beautifully,” he said. “I am absolutely loving this next chapter in my life.” A creative person with an affinity for interacting with people, Joel has found a dream profession as a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Lakeland.

Smoothing out difficult transactions and working tirelessly at the last minute to bring a transaction to close allow Carrier to tap into his creativity and love for people.  Last year, he was working with a buyer who wanted a home for himself and his mother at a price point of $70K. Joel remembered, “It was tough finding him the right place at a very difficult price point. It took months, but we found it. I came home to a card that simply said, ‘Thank you for making my dream come true.’ I keep that card on my credenza in my hallway, so I see it every day when I walk in.”  Motivated to continue making his clients’ dreams come true, Carrier aims to close 48 units this year.

“This decision to join my particular team, Florida Spotlight Homes Group at this particular office has been a life changer for me because there are so many good people,” he said. “The leadership and the culture is all from the heart – all about family and helping people and giving back.”

Passion for Politics

News and politics have always captured Carrier – he joked that he considers himself somewhat of a politics nerd. He has volunteered on political campaigns and belongs to Rainbow Ridge, a local LGBTQ political organization.  

Discussing what he would like to see for the country in the future, Joel said, “What I’d like to see happen in this country is for the divisiveness to just end.” He continued, “It’s not Democrat versus Republican, gay versus straight, black versus white – we have become so incredibly divisive that there is no conversation anymore.”  One way to change this divisiveness in everyday life, Carrier says, is “To encourage people to not judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes.”

LGBTQ in Polk

When Carrier first lived in Polk County as a teenager, he wasn’t a fan. When he returned, he didn’t anticipate staying. “At first I was vehemently opposed because I was hanging on to my, what I know now, are misconceptions of Polk County.”  

Over the last 35-40 years, the area has really changed according to Joel. “There are a heck of a lot of damn good people here,” he said. In terms of being gay in Polk County, he said it’s no different from anywhere else. “Being gay is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me.”  He tends to gravitate towards people who are open-minded and nonjudgmental, even if they don’t share the same views on everything. He has happily managed to find those people here.

Enjoying Right Now  

Joel Carrier has made an impassioned effort to live in the moment and be present. This is rooted in his informal studying of Tibetan Buddhism in Grand Rapids. “The philosophy speaks to me […] because it’s so internal based and it holds us to be accountable to ourselves and to society – to be good and do good,” said Carrier.  

“The past two years have been a real transition point for me in my personal life,” he noted. Though his one week in Florida turned into a permanent stay wasn’t what he had planned, Joel said, “That’s not a negative by any means, it’s been a wonderful journey.”

Now getting into a flow and settling down, he plans to get back to the things he enjoys in life – yoga, cycling, reading (literary nonfiction is his favorite), writing, and soaking in each moment with his friends and loved ones.  Prior to this period of readjustment, Carrier practiced yoga for some twenty years and even taught it. He also spent 20 years riding his bike, five nights a week, 12-15 miles a night. A highlight of his life was accomplishing a ride across the state of Texas for an AIDS fundraiser.

About another happy piece of his life, Joel said, “I am dating the most remarkable man in the world and at this point in my life to have been so lucky to meet someone like that has just been an amazing experience,” said Joel. The two are currently renovating their house.

“I’m perfectly content just slowing down and enjoying. Some of my favorite times are with Billy, sitting on his front porch, talking and watching the sunset and drinking wine, hanging out with my friends at the pool on Sundays, and being completely irresponsible at my age,” he smiled.

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