Learning from experiences is invaluable
My alarm clock has been silent for over six months. However, our dog’s internal clock hasn’t changed, and I get to let him out at about 5:30 AM daily. Some things have changed dramatically, and others haven’t changed at all.
I left my career last November and took a leap of faith that a mini-retirement would provide the reset I desperately needed. I’ve decided it’s time to assess the discoveries I’ve made in the last six months away from the buzz of corporate America.
Six Life Lessons From Mini-Retirement
Immediately after leaving my 30-year career in Information Technology, I felt like I had made a huge mistake. I pushed hard to achieve my career goals and reach financial independence. The strain of my job was making me miserable, and everyone close to me could tell that I was not happy with my job.
Leaving my career was the right choice for me. I know that to be certain now, but as I wrote:
Change is always a challenge, and walking away from something you’ve worked on so hard feels like failure.
I was on LinkedIn, looking at jobs before the dust settled. The process was triggering more self-doubt. Had I quit an excellent job in error?
I committed to stop visiting LinkedIn for a few weeks and focus on finding new routines to supplant work in my life. This step paid off quickly. The less I looked at job postings, the less I stressed about my decision.
I replaced my time worrying about my decision with activities that benefited my well-being.
I no longer had 10–12 hours of work on my calendar each day, and I filled this time with activities for me. My fitness routine restarted and has continued through today.
My first love is running, but a bum hip converted my passion to cycling a few years ago. I started to ride miles and miles on a trainer in my basement again. Work had long been an excuse not to complete my workouts. With work out of the way, I no longer had excuses.
I added long walks to my schedule. These sessions provided time to think in peace. Many of my best ideas have come during a long walk. When you just let your mind wander, you often find amazing things.
All of my time riding my bike and walking helped my physical wellness. My blood pressure returned to normal readings for the first time in many years. I also lost about 15 pounds. These days I need to wear a belt to keep my drawers from dropping.
My son graduated from high school in May. It’s unclear to me how much longer he will be nearby, and I feel fortunate to be able to spend quality time with him.
We worked together on several projects on his car. I didn’t have time or energy for this type of work when I was neck-deep in my career. My break from work allowed me to spend priceless time with my son.
I’ve enjoyed conversations with my son over the last six months. He’s turned into a young man, and every minute I’ve been able to spend has been a blessing — even the frustrating minutes.
My life partner and I will be celebrating 23-years of marriage this summer. I feel like I’ve been able to focus more on her during the last six months. We plan to complete a 100-mile hike together this summer.
She wasn’t sure about my mini-retirement decision and wanted me to get another job shortly after leaving work. I feel like we have a better understanding of my goals now. My commitment to her and our family is unwavering.
Work took a tremendous amount of my time and energy. These six months have given me time to focus on my family in a way that wasn’t possible before.
The transition from anti-budget life.
We lived an anti-budget life for years before I quit my job. During this phase, we paid ourselves first and spent the rest freely. We had high percentage savings targets, and we always hit them. What happened with the rest of the money was not a concern.
I had a planned annual spend in mind. Our anti-budget life didn’t provide any easy way to prove that we could live comfortably on that amount. Soon after leaving work, I adopted a zero-based budget (You Need A Budget) and began to track every penny meticulously.
Tracking our budget this way proved a few things. First, we could indeed comfortably live as planned. Second, I was driving my wife crazy with my tracking efforts.
I was constantly inquiring about this purchase or that. She began to doubt that we were on track. I’ve learned over this period to tone down my inquiries and to emphasize that we are indeed on track.
I’m still using the zero-based budget, but I feel comfortable with our spending, and I don’t stress about little variations from the plan. One goal of financial independence is to reduce the importance of money in decisions.
This time has proven that we don’t need to worry about money the way we live our lives.
The stock market is a rocky ride.
My timing was impeccable. The stock market was near an all-time high when I left my job. Since that time, it’s been a scary roller coaster ride.
At first, I spent too much time looking at the red numbers on CNBC and Google Finance. I began to worry about my decision. It’s pretty scary to have no job and see your net worth take a big hit.
I keep reminding myself that my investments are for the long term. These reminders and a concerted effort to look at the markets less have helped calm me.
Investing in the stock market is never a smooth trip. The more we understand that, the better we can deal with the ups and downs.
Finding a new passion
I read tons of blogs and listened to podcast after podcast over the years as I prepared for financial independence. The content helped me on my journey, even though my circumstances didn’t precisely match.
Early in my mini-retirement, I felt that I could provide an additional voice to help others. I decided to wait several months before embarking on a new mission. I did this because I wanted to be sure that I had time to decompress before burying myself in something new.
Four months into my adventure, I decided it was time to start writing about personal finance and life lessons. I’ve been financially successful despite some pretty big FUBARs along the way.
Writing has never been a strong suit for me. The subject was my most despised in school. I wrote a gazillion emails and documents in my career, but these were not for public consumption.
I committed to learning how to write for others and sharing my struggles and missteps on my financial independence journey. Two months into this process, I find that I enjoy sharing my experiences immensely.
I have much to learn.
Along the way, I’ve read the writings of others in this space whose stories motivate me to continue to learn and share. Some of these authors, including Rocco Pendola, Charlie Brown, and Brian Feutz, amaze me with their ability to tell stories that make me reach deep down and think about things in a new way.
Being a part of this community has been a blessing of my mini-retirement. I feel fortunate to have the time to spend building a new passion without the pressure of money.
I have no end date in mind for my mini-retirement experiment. The time afforded is irreplaceable.
In the first six months, I’ve been able to face self-doubt. I know now that this decision was the right move for me. I am worthy.
I’ve emphasized self-focus and family-focus and even had a family reunion of sorts at an early premiere of Top Gun: Maverick. I feel much better physically and mentally, thanks to my efforts to improve my well-being. The time I’ve spent with family has been amazing, and I will continue to prioritize them above work going forward.
We had to prove that we could transition from anti-budget life and comfortably live on our planned annual spending. I learned that I was frustrating my wife with my meticulous tracking of every penny. I still track to the penny, but I’m much better about keeping my questions to a minimum. We’ve also proved that we can live as planned, and I’m less concerned about small overages here and there.
Although the stock market is a rocky ride, we’ve remained confident. I had to remind myself that our investments are for the long term, not just today. I also stopped looking at CNBC 50 times a day.
The first new passion I’ve focused on is writing about personal finance and life lessons. Although I have no background in writing for others, I enjoy sharing my experiences and hope that something I write will benefit someone else. I look at this as paying it forward for all of the content I consumed on my journey to financial independence.
I’ll keep getting up at the crack of dawn with my dog; no alarm clock required.
The Journey to Financial Independence Creates Freedom
Join to get the FI for Freedom newsletter. We'll share content that will help you discover Freedom before you hit your FI Number.