I was miserable and blind to the reality of my state

Last fall, I walked away from a “good” career, burnt and stressed from years of grinding. Family and friends all told me that I was miserable, but I was blind to the reality of my state. I was purely focused on one goal and pushed myself hard to hit the finish line and retire in my early 50s. At the time, I was 48 and oh so close to my end goal.

Reluctantly, I realized the reality of the miserable effects my career was having on my life. I was highly stressed, doing my best to care for a large team, enduring strains brought on by pandemic-induced financial pressures. I was neglecting my well-being, and most dishearteningly, I wasn’t being present for my family.

The decision to walk away was terrifying. I was so close to the finish line, and I didn’t want to accept the reality that I needed to take a break and reset.

Change is always a challenge, and walking away from something you’ve worked on so hard feels like failure.

Fortunately, my family was persistent. My wife, sister, and brother-in-law had each walked away from a job in the last year. Each of them told me that I needed to step out to see the reality of my situation. And I found reaffirming words from an advocate of mini-retirement, Jillian Johnsrud

Retirement is too far away. Enjoy some of these adventures sooner. Stop pushing things out or missing seasons of your life. Enjoy some time while you are fit and healthy, your parents are young, or your kids are still at home.

Immediately after punching out, I was on LinkedIn looking at other jobs. Still, in total denial, I needed a break. I would see a job posting and feel stressed, wondering why I walked away from a good career. Had I made a grave mistake? Why had I walked away from something that provided so much for my family and me?

Fortunately, it only took a few weeks to start to see the light. I began new routines that focused purely on me. I got back on my bike and pedaled with consistency that hadn’t existed in a very long time. I took time to meditate, go for walks, and began to read. I read more books in five months than I read in the last ten years.

I started to feel much better physically and significantly less stressed. I dropped 15 pounds, mostly from my belly, and remarkably, my blood pressure returned to regular readings for the first time in years. I also returned to Linkedin and turned off notifications, committing myself to make the best of the mini-retirement I had started. When I stopped thinking about my old job and the prospect of returning to work, my focus on the now became more clear.

My teenage son had some car trouble, and I was able to spend time working with him to fix the issues. The car would have gone to the shop for repair in the past because I simply had no time or energy to work on a project like that. While no car trouble is fun, working with my son was incredible. He’s grown into a young man and barely needed help from his old dad, but we enjoyed the time together, wrenching on a car.

When my mom asked me to come to help her set up a new computer, I packed up and drove 500 miles. The freedom to go help was something I had never experienced during my career. I was able to set mom up and even took a trip with her to help a veteran on hospice with a technology problem that was costing him much of his remaining quality of life as he struggled with ALS. I’ve been the family technology support rep for years, something I haven’t always enjoyed. This time around, I cherished the opportunity to help.

It took time after leaving my job to release my mind and begin to realize how deep in my career and early retirement goals I had been entrenched. There was very little life balance. Life imbalance more appropriately described my condition. I was so focused on my goals that I let everything else go without appropriate attention.

The impacts of this mini-retirement on my original early retirement plans are not yet clear to me. However, I’ve found that a greater focus on now is much more important to me than a relentless push to achieve a goal of early retirement. I was giving up way too much now for a future that was pumping up in my mind.

It turns out that focusing on now is very rewarding. I will never get time back. My son will be on his own soon, my wife deserves my full attention and participation, and my parents are getting older. And my health is necessary to achieve any long-term goal. I’ve spent my days focused on the people that matter most in my life, including myself.

No matter what my next step is, I will take lessons provided from this mini-retirement with me. No longer will I be entirely consumed by a job, neglecting myself and my loved ones. I’m not advocating slacking, but there must be a balance between work and life. Many, including myself, have argued that is not possible in the past. I’ve realized that balance must be possible to ensure that everything necessary in life receives appropriate attention.

It’s pretty easy to lose touch with the now in a financial journey. Spending so much time focused on the future is dangerous. We can never get time back. While a journey to financial freedom is important, we cannot let the end goal wipe out now. There has to be a compromise that provides the opportunity to live now and provide for the future.

Perhaps a mini-retirement reset is in order if you feel drowned by work and your relentless push to your ultimate financial goals. My mini-retirement has provided a perspective of my life I was unaware of previously. It took courage that I didn’t know I had to walk away from a “good” job and invest in myself. Ultimately, my decision may push my retirement goal out, and I’m OK with that. I’ve been reminded that living only for a future isn’t living at all. There is only one now, and we cannot buy back time.