A little over seven months ago I made a major life change, leaving a stable, high-paying job to take a yearlong mini-retirement.
I had loosely defined visions for what I would do with this time, but no significant plans per se. I more envisioned my mini-retirement as a field to wander around than a new path to follow.
What I’ve found is that the things I thought I would do have not been as prominent as I expected, and some things I had not expected have opened up. I am not ready to call this overall experiment a success or failure. I don’t think it would be possible to summarize the whole thing in those terms anyway.
But I can say what I’ve done, what I haven’t, what lived up to my expectations and what has surprised me.
A quick recap
I began my mini-retirement on my 38th birthday, April 20, by finishing my last regular day at work. That day I was featured in a CNN Money article about my decision to take a year off, and because of that it was also the day I dropped the mask of anonymity on I Dream of FIRE.
So began my first period of complete unemployment since I started working with my grandpa at the flea market at age 11.
What I’ve done since I quit
Let me start with the highlights.
Travel – Thanks to travel hacking I’ve gone on a cruise, spent a week in Michigan, celebrated my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday in Nashville, enjoyed a weeklong all-inclusive resort stay, and summitted a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado.
Health and fitness – Since joining the Driven Dad boot camp in September, I’ve lost 17 pounds through positive diet and exercise habits. I’ve also stopped taking daily antacids that I’ve been on for decades. Thanks to information from a complete gastrointestinal map and guidance from Adrian Chavez, I am now on a three-month diet and supplement protocol to fix long-standing bacterial overgrowth in my gut. This should relieve symptoms I’ve had for years and fix the root problems rather than just mask the effects. (Seriously, check out this guy’s podcast. He’s a wealth of information.)
Parenting – I take my daughter to school and pick her up almost every day, which takes a huge load off my wife so she doesn’t have to interrupt her work every day like she was doing. I also help with homework, reading and math practice. I created a chart for my daughter that tracks both home and school responsibilities and rewards her for staying on top of them. Also, I can see a huge difference in the way we interact just because I’m around more now.
Volunteering – I read a story to my daughter’s class for Fairy Tale Friday, attend the monthly PTA meetings and manage the Box Tops for Education program for them. I hold a resident seat on my neighborhood HOA’s Budget & Finance Committee to review the association financials, and I help generate ideas and volunteer for neighborhood activities regularly.
Reading – I have read more book in the past seven months than I have in a long time. These include “Man’s Search for Meaning,” “Outwitting the Devil,” “Unfu*k Yourself,” “The Passion Test,” “The Element,” and a few more.
Household stuff – Being around has allowed me to stay on top of daily cleaning a bit more, to take on a few small projects, and to do a lot of the grocery shopping.
Personal growth – I’ve been heavily involved in The Dad Edge Alliance, where I completed a six-month mastermind with the guys I climbed that mountain with in Colorado. I also joined a mini-retirement mastermind with several other personal finance bloggers. Overall, I’ve just been trying to be a better husband, father, and person. Not that I was bad at those things, but I always want to be growing!
Helping others – This free time has allowed me to help quite a few people as a financial coach, which has been rewarding as I see them making positive changes in their lives. I’ve done that pro bono initially, but have seen enough value that I can offer those services for a small fee. I also co-host a twice-monthly financial call team for The Dad Edge Alliance with Nick Elkins of Teach My Kids Money.
Blog – I’ll talk about the blog more later in the post. My posting frequency has gone down, but I am posting longer, more in-depth posts now. I attended my second FinCon. I’ve also been working on some more Lego videos, one of which should be released soon.
Random – I finally started jamming with some guys again, playing some rock songs from the 90s and 2000s mostly. It’s nice to play drums with live musicians again. I’ve also quit playing iPad games, which were taking up hours of my time and were fun but ultimately not productive.
What I haven’t done
Adopt block scheduling – I began conjuring up images of my ideal day and all the things I would do when I could fully dictate how my time was spent. I even came up with a “dream calendar” where I block scheduled my days to include things like writing, reading/listening/watching content, meditating, planning, etc. That never really caught on, likely because I’m doing less of what I thought I would and more of things I wasn’t doing before.
Read all of my book list – I still have more than a dozen books on my reading list. I have two waiting for me right now. I haven’t read anything in the past month. Someone just suggested I check out Blinkist, which is like audio Cliff’s Notes, as a way to quickly get the highlights of a book to decide whether I want to read the whole thing.
Blog more – When I had a full-time job, I was trying to put out posts on Tuesday and Thursday plus a Friday roundup. Many nights I was trying to cobble something together in a half stupor. So naturally I figured without a full-time job I would write a healthy backlog of posts that I could take lots of time to craft. Naturally I figured wrong. I’ve blogged more or less once every two to three weeks, although with longer posts that I have taken more time to write.
Stay as absorbed in personal finance content – This was actually a real surprise. I haven’t been less interested in personal finance. But I haven’t been reading articles and listening to podcasts anywhere near as much as I was before. I believe part of that is due to burnout, part of it because I have more options for how I spend my time, and part because I more or less know what I think I need to know for my current financial situation. Not that there isn’t more to learn; but it’s not as wide-open a world of knowledge like it was when I first found the FIRE community.
Reeeealy stretch myself – OK, I have stretched myself in some ways. I did the mountain thing. I started helping strangers with their finances one-on-one. I went to the gun range and fired a bunch of pistols — the first time I’ve fired something that wasn’t shooting a BB or foam dart. But I haven’t gone way out of my comfort zone when it comes down to it.
Start new hobbies – I haven’t found a long-hidden talent for whittling, or started collecting anything, or making anything, or really doing anything new and hobby-like.
Listen to podcasts – When I was commuting more than two hours a day it was easy to throw on a couple podcasts. I could plow through a dozen or more every week without even thinking about it. Now that I’m not commuting I find I’m nowhere near as intent on keeping up with even my favorite shows. I probably just reached burnout and will come back around to listening more in the future.
Stay on budget – To be honest, I was too conservative in my monthly spending estimate. I suspected that when I made it, but I was being optimistic I would ratchet down my spending when the checks stopped rolling in. Right now I’ve spent about two months worth more than I was hoping to spend, but I also built enough buffer in there that I’m not freaked out … yet.
Expectation vs. reality
How did those visions of carefree days frolicking through wildflowers while listening to ChooseFI as the afternoon sun warmed my face live up to my actual day-to-day? Well, they weren’t totally off.
I spent the first couple of months actually doing that. The weather started to get nicer in May, so I began reading books outside with my morning coffee. I took walks every day and listened to podcasts. I really tried to stop and appreciate my situation and be grateful for the moment.
What I didn’t count on, and what I talked about in another post, is how long it would take to rewire from a world of deadlines and meetings and punch lists. In part I’m just wired that way, and parenthood places additional constraints on how disconnected you can really be from the world. The romantic notion of losing myself in thought or task for hours on end is more a desire than an outcome.
Your results may vary.
I have really enjoyed being more involved in my community and my daughter’s school. Those are privileges I would like to maintain.
I also like being able to jump on calls in the Alliance during the day, like a live Q&A with Dominick Quartuccio, whose ChooseFI podcast episode was a huge inspiration for me to take this mini-retirement in the first place. Or being able to help another man out without waiting for nights and weekends to find the time.
The way I pictured my mini-retirement life and the way it has turned out so far are similar but different. Like anything else, there is a learning curve. I’m still figuring things out about myself, my drives, my talents and, yes, my shortcomings. Which is really what this whole business was about in the first place.
For all that, I’d say this season of my life has been rewarding. I most certainly don’t regret any of it. I look forward to the next part of the journey.