10 Lessons from a Mini-Retirement

20 months ago we stepped away from the 9-5. I knew we would be gone for at least a year, but our life changed in that year because we changed. Honestly, most of the change I never saw coming. If you have ever considered taking a career break, mini-retirement or sabbatical, to pursue other goals or dreams, here are a few of the unexpected things that we have learned along the way. Plus what you can do to prepare NOW for laying the foundation.

planning a mini retirement, year off, sabatical

1. Long term burnout is REAL.

I knew we were tired. In the span of 5 years we had: moved from Germany to the US, bought our ugly house, buried our oldest child, bought our first rental, worked a job I hated, adopted 3 kids, bought another rental, constant renovations and had a baby…yeah, we were tired.

I didn’t really see the full effects of the burn out until it started to wear off. It took about 3-6 months before we started getting our bearings. Then 12 months in everything started to shift.

Prepare Now Tip: Plan out a rest/decompression time, either at the front of your block of leave or try to get a 1-2 month break at some point. Your ideas and vision for planning that time will be much clearer and truer if you’re not exhausted. There are some things we just can’t see correctly when we are burned out. The week we left the 9-5 we started filling our calendar to the brim. If we had taken a month of rest first, I think we would have made MORE progress the rest of that first year.

2. I’m so glad we did this “too early”.

A week before I found out we were expecting sweet baby #5, we had talked about being able to retire in 6 years. As far as early retirement goes, that would have been a very traditional path. Then, when the most unexpected pregnancy test came back positive, we came up with plan B.

Plan B was to take a year off and figure it out from there.

Sometimes our very best plans are the B plans.

I had NO idea. Not even a clue of all the good things that would come from taking this time. It’s been a 180-degree turn in our lives.

Prepare Now Tip: Don’t be foolish, but don’t base all your choices on fear either. For most people in the personal finance space, fear is much stronger than impulsiveness. Actually weight the risks of taking a year off, plan for it, prepare, then jump. The planning and preparing is a safe, comfortable stage. Jumping will scare the crap out of you. But the good stuff starts with jumping.

3. We get more job offers now than when we were still working.

It would be very easy to go back to the 9-5 job. We still get offers. Some of them very interesting and very tempting. Craziest thing of all: they are all better offers than the jobs we use to have. Better pay, better hours, better work. This fact totally shocked me! But after talking with a few others who have taken time away, it’s rather common.

Prepare Now Tip: Establish great relationships in your field. The year before you take time away, be intentional about investing in those relationships and producing amazing work.

In most fields the best way to get a 20% raise is to switch companies. Your time away from the 9-5 might be the perfect opportunity to find a great promotion. If there are 10-20 people who 1. Like you, 2. Respect your work, and 3. Know you could be available in the next few months: you might get some amazing job offers. (If you don’t have those first two, work on that over the next 1-2 years as you prepare for your time away.)

Send out a nice letter to all your connections in your field before you leave with your new contact info, a short summary explaining that what you are taking time for (…), but for a few you are very close with include a subtle plug that implies you are always interested in any great fitting spot that might come available. After you leave, continue to maintain those relationships. Don’t completely fall off the grid.

4. Finding balance isn’t automatic.

It still takes effort to make time to go to the gym, or do a girls weekend trip, or meet up with friends. All those things didn’t become super easy or automatic once we left the 9-5. Life is still full, and we have to be intentional to carve out space.

Prepare Now Tip: Start laying a foundation of good habits now. Investing in meaningful relationships. Learning to practice self-care. Develop hobbies. Don’t wait until your first day away from your 9-5. When you have more free time, it’s far easier to build on something you’ve already started.

5. Our life is slightly off norm, and that’s uncomfortable to some people.

Most people are slightly confused. For a lot of reasons. Even now I feel the slight hesitation in some conversations. But money is a weird thing for a person to ask about, so most don’t ask. People also have what we like to call “big feelings” about work, income and personal value. As in, if you work and if that work produces lots of income, then you have value as a person. The only “work” that has value to society is the work that produces a good income. Take this blog, for example, it doesn’t matter how many hours or how much effort I put into it, or how much impact it creates in others lives. If it makes a lot of income, I’m a success, if it doesn’t then it has no value and I am wasting my life. Same work, same impact but a far different perception for 90% of the population.

Prepare Now Tip: The more clear you are on your values, purpose, and vision for your life, the easier it will be to handle others confusion. If you aren’t crystal clear, their hesitation and disapproval will shake you. Your “why” has to be bigger than “I hated my job.” If you simply hate your job, get a new job.

In the year or two before you leave, take the time to really work through this stuff. What you really want out of life? What are the most important areas of your life? What kind of legacy/impact do you want to leave on this world? Read all my mentoring questions, and really take the time to figure out your answers. Consider hiring a mentor. Start a blog to think/write through it. Find a community of like minded people who “get it” and will support and encourage you.

My point is: This is important work. And you need to do it NOW. Start 10 years out, 5 years out, 2 years out. Don’t wait until Day 1 of your time off. Others strong opinions will throw you about like a ship at sea. It’s better to invest a bit of money and time up front to develop a clear vision and maximize the value of your time away.

6. Time is still our biggest struggle, not money

If I could get an extra $1000 a month or 20 hours a week, I would take the time hands down. Even without 9-5 jobs, we lack time SO much more than money.

I don’t stress over our expenses at all. But when I plan out the schedule for our week, there are a lot of trade offs we have to make.

I really thought that by leaving 2 45+ hour jobs, there would be time for EVERYTHING. Nope. We still make trade offs, we have to prioritize.

As the burn out has worn off, there are interesting, important, cool things EVERYWHERE that I want to do. It’s a bit overwhelming at times because so many options are on the table. But I can’t do everything, not all at once. I’ve had to really consider what the most essential thing to pursue is in any given week/month/year and focus in on that.

That means saying no a lot. Often to myself. Because as much as I would like to I can’t blog/mentor/write/renovate/travel full time around the country with my kids/start a hobby farm/flip houses/open a churro cart/build tree house rentals/write a book (or 10)/ get in great shape/ give financial talks/ custom build a house/master the art of Norwegian wedding cake baking….all in the same month. Shocking right? With out the 9-5 I can do any of those, but not all of them. Not all at once, at least.

But here is the awesome thing, I could do one of those each year. And I hope to have a lot of years left on this Earth. So I’m going to pick one thing each year. In 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, I am so freaking excited for the highlight reel I can create. Most people have 2 or 3 big, lofty dreams. By leaving the 9-5, I have 100% control of my time/life, I hope to tackle 20 BIG dreams before I check out of this life. (Or 50 things! I see myself as the 85-year-old gray haired lady still creating, building, producing in BIG ways! I won’t go out quietly.)

Prepare Now Tip: Leaving a 9-5 job won’t give you time for everything. So start choosing wisely now. Learn to look at all the options and narrow it down to 2 or 3 that burn in your heart like a wildfire. Read Essentialism. And start practicing. Because without jobs, this will actually be more important, not less important.

7. If you aren’t burned out, have some time and don’t need much income, there are hundreds of options to make money.

Isn’t it annoying when some entrepreneur, self-employed, or early retiree talks about all the ways a person could make money? Because you are exhausted, time crunched, and don’t see any way to make a full-time income. You have tried and failed. More than once. Yup, I’ve been there. I wanted to punch those people in the face.

20 months away from the 9-5, I’ve become that annoying person. There are literally hundreds of ways to earn money without a 9-5 job. But, and a big but… you can’t approach it from a place of burn out, you need to have some time, and it won’t replace a full income. Not at least for the first 2-5 years.

Every week I come across another good option. Some very interesting and very tempting. Which is why #6 is so darn important. I don’t have the time for everything and don’t need the money. So the option better fit right in the middle of our next lesson, #8. If not, and it’s an idea I really love, I’ll pass it on to one of the people I mentor. I might pass it along to a reader or friend. Or I might keep it in my back pocket for a few years down the road.

Prepare Now Tip: Trust me. When you get to the point where you aren’t burned out, have some time, and don’t need a lot of income, you will find ways to learn a little bit of coin. Read, study, build skills, lay a foundation now. Don’t wait to show up on day 1. Do a bunch of stuff for free while you work your job. It will help you figure out what you like and what you are good at. Learn the market. Immerse yourself in the area that interests you.

For example, I wrote for free for about 8 years. I spoke for free for the last 12 years. I mentored others for free for 14 years. I did it because I loved it. Because it mattered to me and created change in others. And I built those skills, slowly, behind the scenes. It never occurred to me that those we marketable or profitable skills.

Now I’m not burned out. Now I have a little bit of time. And now I don’t need any income. Well, now I have to turn away work for all three. I do as much writing, speaking and mentoring as I can fit into my life in this season.

I know a lot of people poo-poo the idea of working for free. Working for free is how you build skills worth paying for. Don’t do it for “exposure,” don’t do it to build a portfolio. If you love it, do it to learn it. Do it to become great at it. Master your craft. Consider it the most affordable college degree you can earn.

And don’t worry about getting paid. Not yet. For example, I really enjoyed photography. I thought about doing that for profit about 10 years ago. So I took photos of over 50 families. For free. 1. To see if I loved it. And 2. to build my skills. I wrote that you Can’t Waste Good. That effort wasn’t wasted. I learned that I enjoyed it, but that it’s not a deep passion. I became better at capturing moments (something that actually improved my writing). And I created cherished pictures for dozens of people I care about.

8. Meaning, purpose, and impact

I think about this ALL the time now. Every single day. I use to think about it occasionally. But we only have so much focus and attention. 90% of my focus was on our jobs, income, investments, and just keeping our heads above the grind. 10% of my focus could go towards the kind of impact I want to have and how I can chase down my biggest dreams. Now that is flipped. 90% of my thoughts are on impact/purpose/dreams and 10% of my thoughts are on income, investments, expenses. 

Prepare Now Tip: Create the time and space to start thinking about this more, now. Most of our success I credit to consistently planning, dreaming, and thinking about this. Because you can’t plan it all at once. You need to do some thinking, then you need to walk the path for a while. Then you need to rake some things over again. Ask new questions. Learn some new ideas. Then walk the path some more. It’s the reason you don’t work with a mentor for one call or read one book, then are set for life. Our personal development just doesn’t work that way.

Plus, saving is boring if you don’t have a bigger meaning. If we don’t have a vision of how life will be different or better, saving 10% seems like a boring but responsible plan. We will never find the motivation to stretch if we don’t have anything we are stretching towards.

9. There is more than one path to create financial freedom.

And you might not need as much as you think to start. If we had waited the extra 6 years, we could have done a traditional 4%. But I am SO glad we didn’t wait. We would have missed out on so many good things. There are a number of ways people in real life piece together time off. Maybe you want 3 months to write a book, 6 months to hike the Appalachian Trail, 2 years to get a business off the ground, or a year to travel the whole US with your kids. A 4% withdrawal probably isn’t the best method to get there.

Prepare Now Tip: For those who want to create a change sooner rather than later, the 5 bucket approach is the best method for finding the financial freedom needed to start custom creating your life. For my awesome email subscribers, I will be offering a private invite for extra help customizing the 5 bucket approach. If you’re interested in learning how to customize this for your finances, make sure you sign up for all the info!

 

10. It takes a lot of courage, but then you gain confidence.

90% of the fear you feel will be before your last day f work. You will run the numbers, you will look at the income/expenses, and you will be scared. Scared about all sorts of things. You will need a darn good reason to make that leap, and a bucket full of courage. Because it’s easy to just stay. You will start to think, “Well, this isn’t so bad. My life isn’t bad. Maybe we should just stay here a while longer.”

You can’t see what you are missing until you have it.

20 months into this new life: I get it. I see what we were missing all those years. I see the deep benefits. I see the opportunity. Now seeing what this new life is like: we now have the confidence we lacked when we started. You can’t weigh one against the other until you have been in both places. Once you have lived life your 9-5 life AND a life without the 9-5, then you can weigh them against each other accurately. You will feel confident in your choice going forward.

Maybe you will get an amazing 9-5 offer and happily take it. The time off will have filled your cup, and done its job (travel, adventure, a new hobby, time with family, etc.) and you are ready to dive into this 9-5 with more energy and excitement than ever before.

Maybe this new life will open doors you hadn’t seen before, and life will move in a new direction entirely.

It’s scary and unknown before you jump.

After you jump, the fear melts away and you gain confidence in your choices.

Because you will see both sides of the coin.

It’s no longer an unknown or a gamble.

Prepare Now Tip: All the fear lies just before the start line.  If it seems like a hard thing to pull the trigger on, you are absolutely right: it is hard and scary, and unknown. Feeling fear isn’t a sign your making the wrong choice. There will be fear. But the fear will also fade away. Unknowns will be traded with first-hand experience. And you will gain confidence.

After a few months being with your spouse full time, you’ll figure out whose job it is to unload the dishwasher now.

After the first person passes along a job offer, you know there are still options out there. Maybe better options.

After a few months of tracking your new expenses, you’ll know what your post work expenses look like.

After your first big trip with your kids, you’ll see the growth in them, in their relationship with each other and with you, and if you’re like me, feel a twinge of sadness that you didn’t do this MUCH sooner.

After 6, 12 or 18 months of traveling/adventuring full time, you know how you really feel about having a home base, and maybe doing some part time work.

After you write 80,000 words, you’ll know if “author” is the right fit for you.

But you won’t know until you try.

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33 thoughts on “10 Lessons from a Mini-Retirement

  1. This is phenomenal – thank you so much for sharing this Jillian! Having just kicked off our mini-retirement, this is a HUGE help to guide me on the right path. I’ve been taking it relatively easy these last couple weeks to decompress but have lots of fun stuff planned for my blog, app, and adventures with my wife and kids.

    I’m seriously bookmarking this page so I can revisit and ensure I’m making the most out of this mini-retirement. Thank you!

    • It’s easy to overfill your plate at first. I liken it to binge eating after a fad diet. =) But you will see things differently, and have better ideas if you are more rested. Just catching up on a sleep debt takes time. =) I’m excited to watch your journey and see what this time has in store for you! You’ve already done the hardest part; putting in your notice. =)

  2. Beautiful post. We’ve fallen into our situation, and sometimes I get super-frustrated with how little I feel I’ve accomplished. No matter how much time you have, it never seems to be enough. I do think these words will get me a little more focused on forming a realistic plan and better prioritization. Thanks!

    • It does take a lot of planning, prioritizing and thoughtfulness! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by options and not actually take ground on any of them. I find I need to spend even more time now focusing on that than before. =) Plus I need more people to support the journey than before. None of that was obvious or intuitive before we started! I work with a blogging partner, and a paid mentor now. If you had asked me 5 years ago, I would have thought that was nuts. But big life changes don’t master themselves!

  3. If only everyone had the courage to figure it out as they go along. We could truly create our own vision of life if we commit to being a little un-ordinary. We might even be extra-ordinary.

    The job offers are so ironic. You probably would have killed for some of them when you were on the hamster wheel. Now you can smile and say “no thank you” if your criteria is not met.

    You’re so great at inspiring people to find their purpose and you do it by showing, not just by teaching.

    • There was an offer for a job a few weeks ago that Mr. Montana had worked SO hard to get a shot at for 3 years! Except they had made the position even better: better hours and better pay. I think there is something about going off and doing fun and interesting things that makes a person seem more desirable. We also seem less beat down and more energized. If the perfect offer came along, we are always open. But honestly, the next few years are rather booked up so it better fit around our other dreams. =)

  4. I really enjoyed reading this and the timing couldn’t be better. After hearing about both your mini-retirement and the mini-retirement Chris at Keep Thrifty just started, I’ve been starting to think about whether or not this is a possibility for Mr. Adventure Rich and I at some point…

    I find it interesting that time (not money) is your biggest struggle. I would have thought the opposite, but like you noted, there are so many things to pursue or passions to explore, it takes planning to whittle down the priorities and focus in on those.

    Thank you for sharing your lessons and tips for preparation! Who knows, maybe we’ll join you at some point 🙂

    • I would have thought that money would be a bigger stress as well. Although I was also surprised how much our spending dropped after we quit working. I would say 20-30% lower now. And there so many things we want to do/priorities to balance. Figuring out that balance is by far our biggest stressor. But it was SO much more stressful while we were working. Cutting out 2, 45 hour a week jobs has made it at least possible, where before the kind of balance we wanted was a pipe dream.

  5. What a wonderful and impactful post. And dare I say, inspirational.

    And believe it or not, you’re the second blogger without a 9 to 5 to post today about struggling to find time and structure in this new and wonderful life (Mr. 1500 being the other). I like how you approach your ambitions; you can’t do them all today, but you could do them all in due time.

    Cheers to your many aspirations!
    -PoF

    • Oh, me and poooorrrr Mr. 1500! We have been trying to set up a time to Skype for a MONTH! We finally pushed it back another 6 weeks. You know there is a problem when two unemployed people can’t find an hour of free time! And I am super excited for the next 20 years. I feel like we have kicked butt and taken names the last 15 years, but these next 20 will be epic. =)

  6. Great to hear these thoughts. It is quite motivating and makes me want to jump into a early-retirement (or mini-retirement in your case). I find time with our son is the most precious thing and if I could have more of that it would be worth retiring early. Now to figure out the finances and see where we can go from there. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • This time with our kids is SO important to us right now. I wouldn’t mind working a more traditional job when they are in high school or college, but I don’t want to miss this time. Right now they want to be with us all day, they want to travel with us, they want to go do things with us constantly. In 5 years my oldest with be 14. Will he want to be road-schooled for a year then to travel the whole US? Maybe. But maybe not. I’m not going to risk it. If you can figure out a way to swing even a year off, or 2 or 3, who knows what other good things could happen? And if we have a strong motivation and laser focus, I’ve seen a lot of things fall into place with a few years of planning. Good luck!

  7. Great post. Especially: “If you love it, do it to learn it. Do it to become great at it. Master your craft. Consider it the most affordable college degree you can earn.”

    • I joke that blogging has been the most affordable, effective college education I’ve ever had! I set aside about $1500 and have learned more marketable skills in a year than I ever did in college. I find it strange that people would take on $40k in debt for a degree in something they haven’t ever tried for free. Most people learn best by doing anyway. Between books, the internet, courses, mentors, affordable tech, volunteering ect it’s never been easier to gain skills by just doing that thing.

  8. This is exactly the life change we have been talking about. We are working to pay off our house in 4 years so we can do just that. My husband doesn’t enjoy his job, despite the great company. He feels like he’s missing out on our kids, especially since we homeschool and he wants to be part of teaching them. I worry that 4 years is still a long time to not be happy in his job. But he’s also very scared to think about taking that step. Financial independence means all those things for us that you said. And living a work optional life is our dream. These lessons and tips will definitely help us talk and plan our own adventure post 9-5. Thank you!!

    • A paid off home is a huge help! 4 years is a long time to be unhappy, but it’s also a great timeframe to plan and fill your 5 buckets appropriately. Plus it gives you the time to lay a good foundation in other areas. If there is flexible side work either of you would enjoy and could fit into your life, you can start practicing that now. In 2 years your skills could be marketable and help fill your buckets. Then in 4 years, they could help bridge the gap. Even if you can each find a way to earn $500 a month, that can help speed up your timeline by years! And often when I mentor people I find that as they really start going traction on their plan, the job they use to hate seems more bearable because they have so much joy from the progress they are making on other things.

      • That’s actually a big reason we started our own blog. I love to write and he loves to teach. We feel this can be a combined effort to build up our skills in those areas over time. Another reason for it was because the simple act of building something together like that helps him have more peace at work. We are still searching and praying for God to show us another way to build up a side income to do just that. We are definitely focusing on how to enjoy this time, even if we’re not quite to where we want to be. Our kids are still small, so it’s hard to enjoy the moments amidst the screaming as I’m sure you know. But they remind us of why our goal is so important.

        • Ah the joys of small kids! I use to try to find 60-second windows of time. I literally would read books using the 30 seconds I would spend peeing. =) It was enough time to read about 4 to 10 sentences, just enough to have something I could contemplate while enjoying the chaos and business of motherhood. And I think building something that is meaningful on the side is an amazing way to find more joy in your day job. =)

          • Haha that is the definition of my pee breaks! Although usually my 2 yr old is also on my lap while I’m doing that. It does help to have something other than the kids in my head, something that makes me feel like I’m growing myself not just our kids.
            I was actually reading the post about the Essentialism book and now I want to add it to my list. I listen to audiobooks while running, so maybe I can add that! 🙂

  9. This is our dream, something we’ve been working towards for a few years. We are working on paying our house off in the next 4 years because we both feel that his job burnout is close. We homeschool our 3 kids and he wants to be part of that, teaching them and building a foundation that will take them into their own future. And working in his corporate job limits his ability to be part of that. The fear of taking that step is a big part of why we haven’t done more I think. And though we have talked about much of this, I am excited to really sit down and plan more in depth what our own retirement will look like. Thanks for all of this and for mentoring those of us who aren’t near where you are on the FI path.

  10. Love this so much! I have had some thoughts about making some big changes for a while now and this is so, so helpful. The biggest barrier for me, personally, is fear (and health insurance!). This is a great resource and I love that it’s based on your personal experience. Thank you for your transparency and for sharing. 🙂

    I’m experiencing #6 as we speak. After hitting a wall, I realized I cannot possibly do everything right this moment. There are always trade-offs and I have to choose. Re-reading Essentialism (and The Icarus Deception – thank you, friend!) is helping. Also taking time to think and plan has been a huge help to me in the last couple of weeks.

    • Nope, we can’t do everything at once. =) But if we plot out what we want to do this year or in 3 years or 10 years, we can slowly take ground on more than we might expect. Fear is a huge barrier! No doubt about that. It’s easy to see what we are losing, but it’s hazy to see what we might gain from any big change. Good luck friend! Look forward to chatting soon about all of this. =)

  11. “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
    –Mark Twain

    “Jumping will scare the crap out of you. But the good stuff starts with jumping.”
    –Ms Montana.

    I don’t know which quote inspires me more. Thank you, Ms. M., for another amazing post. From harried mom to preeminent mini-retirement expert. You’re a national treasure, madam. I salute you.

    • I love that Mark Twain quote! It was my motto for our last 6-week road trip with the kids. Because people who had small kids thought we were straight up crazy. And there was a solid chance the whole thing would be a disaster. But Twain pulled through for me and the trip was awesome, not a drop of disaster in the whole thing.

      And you gotta stop saying such nice things. At $20 a pop, I’m starting to run up quite the tab, friend. 😉

  12. I’ve just finished reading your entire blog. I was intrigued by the idea of taking a year off. I thought we were being radical by talking about taking a few months off before we start on our next phase of life, lol. One of the things I always wonder about but rarely see addressed in detail in the the FIRE/PF community is health insurance and health care costs. How are they so small??? Our health care costs are more than our mortgage each month (insurance premiums, deductibles, prescriptions, etc) and that is with employer health insurance. We are healthy people with medical conditions that must be managed, and we maintain well, so it’s not like we’re in the hospital or dr office constantly. How do people do this with the health care/insurance factor? Is everybody just younger than us and without chronic health issues? I remember reading somewhere on your blog a little bit about this. Maybe a future topic for you? Anyway, I’ve enjoyed your blog. Nice to meet you!

    • Wow, that is awesome! Thanks for reading and the comment. I might do a post about health care options. We have insurance from Mr. Montana’s military retirement. It’s 80/20 with $150 deductible and $3500 yearly cap. But the best part is no monthly premiums, we only pay for what we use. It’s a great benifit. 🙂

  13. What a phenomenal post! Few people can write like this – inspirational but not preachy, fresh, and contagious – and you are one of them Mrs. Montana. I especially love your message on working for free. So much of personal finance space is about hassling and making money. FI may create space in one’s life but one still have to fill it in.

    I am glad I found your corner of the Internet. Looking forward to reading more.

    • You are absolutely right that FI creates space but we have to learn to fill it well! I think working for free has the hidden benefit of testing your commitment to an idea. If it’s an idea you really love, working for free will prove that. If something isn’t willing to do it for free, they should keep searching till they find that thing they would do for free. Then become absolutely amazing at it. Also, I’m super glad you found this little corner of the internet too, Viktoria! Welcome!

  14. Great post, lots to contemplate for sure. I love how you laid it all out so eloquently! If only more people could see that this is a possibility in their lives.

    • I think the overall economy is moving in this direction. Between natural job instability, and how accessible it is for people to start their own businesses, planning for gaps will become common place. My hope is that people plan well and can really benefit from the gaps. =)