The mini-retirement: a safe way to try a different lifestyle

Variety is the spice of life, they say. But when it comes to scheduling work and play, the vast majority of people run on the same schedule.

Between your twenties and your sixties, you work from morning until evening Monday through Friday, with the occasional couple of weeks off for a vacation.

True, some people work part-time, some take parental leave, and some have their own business. But by and large, people stick to this schedule.

Yet on the road from a nascent career to traditional retirement, many of us might want to try other things. We may be stressed and wanting to take a good few months to decompress. Or, on the contrary, we might be brimming with energy, wanting to take on challenges that our job doesn’t provide. Or perhaps we are quite happy with our work, but we’re unable to find the time and energy to create new habits or to try other lifestyle changes.

Enter the mini-retirement: a temporary break from working for money to do something you think you’ll enjoy without it having to (immediately) generate an income. The mini-retirement is a fantastic, low-risk way to supply you with the time and energy to try out a lifestyle change.

A mini-retirement can be as short as three months or as long as a year. You can use it to do anything you can’t get to during normal times. That could be trying a different career, living more slowly, working on a DIY project, learning to paint, reading lots of books, writing a book—probably not all at once, but you get the idea.

A mini-retirement is also a great opportunity to start your own business or side hustle. In fact, I first learned of the concept of a mini-retirement on Paula Pant’s blog Afford Anything, where she advocates that “everyone should have a side hustle”.

While a mini-retirement would probably not be enough time to set up a business or side hustle that generates enough income to support you and your family, it should give you enough time to figure out whether you would actually enjoy working on that side hustle or business.

Not that what you do during a mini-retirement has to be wild. In particular, a mini-retirement is a great opportunity to form a new habit that will pay dividends.

With a full time job, it can be difficult to muster the willpower to establish a habit such as working out, cooking healthy meals, or meditating. And when eight to ten hours of your every weekday are already accounted for, it’s harder to find the time, too.

During a mini-retirement, you can put yourself in the best position to succeed at a new habit. For starters, you can sleep more—and nothing improves your willpower as much as consistently getting enough sleep.

But you’d also have the time and energy to set up systems to improve your chance of success. If you wanted to improve your fitness, you could sign up with a personal trainer, or you could agree to work out together with a friend, improving the odds that you’d continue to exercise.

Another reason why starting a new habit during a mini-retirement can be so powerful is that once you start a new habit, it tends to stick around. It’s much easier to continue an existing habit, even when your mini-retirement is over, than to start a new habit from scratch.

By providing the right conditions, a mini-retirement can transform your thinking from I can’t work out consistently—believe me, I’ve tried to All I needed to work out consistently was some time and energy to get started!

Of course, taking a mini-retirement is not a panacea. It won’t make all your problems go away. But it can replace some of your current problems with new, better ones. For instance, an old problem might be that you didn’t know how to get started with exercising regularly. During a mini-retirement, you might begin exercising and love it so much that you create a new problem: how to schedule your workouts when you get back to work after your mini-retirement.

Now, when I talk with people about mini-retirements, they often bring up the practical question of how to pay for one. Unless you plan to use your mini-retirement for work that will immediately pay you, taking one will almost always require you to have some savings.

And those savings won’t appear out of thin air. You’ll have to work to build them up. But don’t let the practical matter of paying for a mini-retirement stop you from considering whether you want to take one in the first place.

If you want to take a mini-retirement badly enough, you can build the savings you need. Not instantly, but over time. In fact, creating the option to take a mini-retirement in the future is a great reason to save and invest today. If you’ve read my articles before, you know that I think building wealth is a key part of being able to design your own life for maximum happiness.

A second practical concern is whether your employer (if you have one) will let you take off the time you need for a mini-retirement. If you want to keep a mini-retirement as low-risk as possible, knowing you can go back to your old job will provide peace of mind.

In practice, if your boss thinks you do a good job, you might be surprised how readily they’ll agree to you taking a few months off. I know several people who have taken off anywhere between three and nine months and who went back to their job after that. If you plan to build skills that are valuable to both you and your employer during your mini-retirement, it can be a no-brainer for your employer to let you take the time off.

Really though, try not to get hung up on the practical concerns before you think about what you’d do with a mini-retirement. I would go so far as to say that taking a mini-retirement at all is just as important as figuring out what you’d do with it. The crucial bit is that a mini-retirement allows for experimentation.

The point of lifestyle design is to eventually spend more of your time doing things that make you happy. And to figure out whether something makes you happy, you’ve got to try it.

What could you do to improve your life if you had several months’ worth of time and energy?

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Posted by Peter

Here, Peter writes about whatever has caught his interest recently. Maybe he'll narrow down this blog's scope someday.

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