I Dream of FIRE

In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Mini-retirement is not a magic elixir

The to-do lists are still there. The calendar notifications, too.

These are the ways I’m used to measuring productivity, and I find them difficult to break free from. I probably won’t actually get away from the traditional trappings of work life, at least not in this mini-retirement. I’m not going feral, after all.

But I need to find new ways to appreciate results that are less tangible.

Notice I said appreciate and not measure. I’m hoping to achieve things that aren’t so easy to quantify.

It’s comforting to cross items off a list.

Read 30 pages of A.J. Jacobs’ book. Check.
Send a birthday present to my niece. Check.
Go to the store for the Mother’s Day feast. Check.
Write a blog post. If you’re reading this, consider that checked off, too.
Make progress on understanding your definition of the meaning of life. Hmmm … maybe that one carries over to tomorrow’s list.

I’m still in detox mode. This is the start of my fourth week of my mini-retirement. (Side note: I’ve been asked why I’m calling it a mini-retirement and not, say, a sabbatical or becoming a stay-at-home parent. In higher ed, which I left, sabbaticals are common for faculty and also imply that you’re coming back to the same job. That’s not my intent, so I don’t want to add confusion. Also, I didn’t leave to become a stay-at-home parent, although I’ll be taking on that role this summer. Mini-retirement seems the most true to my goals, so that’s why I went with it.)

I have been surprisingly busy without a job. I walk my daughter to school and pick her up. I’ve tended to some things around the house that have been put off for awhile. I’ve taken some solo grocery shopping trips we would normally do as a family on the weekend. We went on a cruise. I’ve done some financial coaching calls. I’m in several mastermind groups and just joined another with several personal finance bloggers who are also taking mini-retirements right now.

What I have found interesting is the guilt I have around not being “productive.” I define that word a little differently now, but not much. There are things I want to do, and shouldn’t I be doing them? My inner dialog looks something like this:

“Don’t sit on the porch sipping lemonade. There’s stuff to be done. You’re not close to hitting 10,000 steps today. Those posts aren’t going to write themselves. How long is it going to take you to read all those books if you’re just sitting around? There’s only so much time in the day and you’re wasting it.”

I’m almost done with “The Year of Living Biblically,” which has been a fun and fascinating read. Next up is Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is the official kick-off book of my self-discovery line-up. Even sitting down to read from the list of books I said I wanted to read during this time feels weird.

That’s what I mean by still being in detox mode.

Chasing the mice of memory

Have you ever seen a mouse run through overgrown grass in a field? You’ll see something move in your peripheral vision, and you look to where you think it was and then see it move somewhere else. It’s elusive.

I have the same experience with certain emotions. I recognize them in the moment, but I can’t seem to recreate them. I wrote about one for a piece on Keep Thrifty.

“There’s this really strong memory I have from when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. It was early into summer vacation, and I woke up in bed with a light breeze carrying the scent of freshly mowed grass through the open window. It was sunny, and when my eyes opened I felt totally rested and excited for the day ahead — and I had absolutely nothing to do. It’s about as close as I can come to remembering a feeling of true freedom. If I could wake up to another day like that, I’ll know I’m on the right track.”

As I recounted that memory, I actually got a little choked up. The thing is, I have no idea what I did that day. It wasn’t what happened that day that left such an imprint on me. It was that feeling when I woke up that anything could happen. I had the whole beautiful, sunny, quintessential summer day laid out before me. The morning was full of possibility, not tasks.

Over time, my brain — probably like many of you — has developed to see time as productivity yet realized. That mentality makes is so difficult for me to be present in the moment, because I’m always thinking about my future productivity.

Maybe by rediscovering that childlike sense of wonder and excitement about the day as it is when I wake up, rather than as it will be by the time I go to bed, I’ll put myself in a place to find something I didn’t know I was looking for. Maybe I’ll spot a mouse in the field.

Trust in the process

My mini-retirement mastermind peers assure me this is normal. It takes months to adapt to this lifestyle and to find balance between activity and leisure. Just let it play out.

Several people have told me to take my time and not jump into too many things too quickly. Enjoy the space that I craved rather than smother it. Can I put that on my to-do list?

In any event, learning to live with so few hours of solidly committed time is almost like learning a new job itself. It’s the awkward “am I doing this right?” feeling, or the “at my old job we did it this way” refrain that takes awhile to remove from your vocabulary. It’s a skill unto itself.

I’m certainly no Jeffrey Lebowski, even if I’ve watched the movie so many times I see it as an insurance lesson. That kind of dedication to leisure isn’t in the cards, nor do I want it to be. But it might be nice to go bowling.

Besides, it’s only 50 cents a game during the weekday working hours. Even The Dude could get excited about that.

3 Comments

  1. I am taking the summer off as well, my own mini-retirement, and I just signed my kid up for Kids Bowl Free (and Kids Skate Free) for this summer. Not sure if you want that large of a commitment, but hey…for a mere $30 (and shoe rental if needed), four adults and my kid can bowl up to two games per day all summer long.

  2. I retired in February after working 40 years in financial services. I thought I would miss it. I thought I would miss managing and leading a team. I thought I would miss it all. Turns out I don’t spend any time looking back. I miss having structure in my days, but am learning to appreciate the daily possibility of spontaneous activities. I am loving the freedom I last had as a teenager. I sleep deeply and appreciate this phase of life, allowing myself latitude to take time, to laugh, to dance, to travel, and find my new normal with my husband. Life is wonderful.

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