I first read the Four Hour Workweek (4HWW) by Tim Ferriss on a 6-seater plane from Ciudad Bolivar en route to Angel Falls in Venezuela while on what I then referred to as a holiday with an indefinite end date. The 4HWW framed this concept as a mini-retirement, which to me at the time was ingenious*. 5 years later and here I am again, well-insulated from regular life, hiding in the mountains of Germany on my second mini-retirement. Seeing some familiar patterns repeat themselves, I’d like to talk about how this brilliant concept works.
*With a little more experience, I have come to realize that the 4HWW was a brilliant book to gain a new perspective but not necessarily the ultimate life to aspire to. Given that Tim Ferriss works more than 12 hours per day leave alone 4 hours per week, I guess he probably agrees. Maybe I’ll elaborate a little more on this in another post.
The concept of retiring from a job with a steady pension and a healthy bank account at the ripe old age of 65 is a ghost from the industrial age. Once you’ve retired, you’ve got a good 20 active years of your life doing what? Golf? Charity? Looking at our careers from afar, the first issue we have to address is why should we wait until 65 to have an abundance of free time? Why should we not experience that today? The second factor is why should we as a society, allow people to go from the peak of their productivity to zero productivity. Isn’t humanity losing out? Does the concept of mandating that people above the age of 65 retire from the workplace make sense? We have to re-think this black and white concept of retirement. It’s horrible for us individually and not efficient for us as a society. So in my mind, since the magical 65 is no longer relevant (I will work for the rest of my life), it now makes sense to consider peppering our long and ever increasing lives with one or more mini-retirements.
So you’ve always dreamed of moving to the beach and learning how to surf. One morning you wake up with 2 kids waiting for breakfast and that’s another dream shattered. Someone else dreams of climbing Kilimanjaro but never had enough money or time to do that. Next thing they know they’re 65, retired, with plenty of money and time but with no stamina to make the climb. The bucket list of dreams keeps getting longer and you have to allow yourself the time to strike a few items off the list while putting your future on hold. Take everything you consider a time-based luxury that your job and current lifestyle would never permit and give yourself and opportunity to say – I no longer have ‘time’ as an excuses to not do what I thought I wanted to do. You can effectively reduce quite a number of short-term wants and that’s when you can begin to ask yourself – what do I want to do with my life (long term)?
To quickly summarize another related concept from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – our psyche consists of 3 people – the operator, the manager and the executive. So if we enter a jungle hacking away at the trees trying to make our way through to the other side, it’s the operator within us who actually sharpens the machete and hacks through the vines while keeping a wary eye out for snakes. The manager taps impatiently on his watch and says that at this speed we’ll run out of food before we get through the jungle implying that the operator has to move faster and take fewer smoke breaks. Meanwhile, the executive climbs up a tree and yells “Wrong jungle!”
Most of us are consciously or unconsciously well-practiced operators. Some of us are even skilled managers – efficiently climbing up the rungs of the corporate ladder and making steady progress towards the top. The problem is that by the time we get to the top we’re in our 40s-50s only to realize that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall all along. All those sacrifices made by the operator and manager over the years, helped us achieve something we never really wanted. The executive within us was fast asleep. A mini-retirement is supposed to wake up the slumbering executive and find out where our internal compass is pointing.
To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual – Oscar Wilde
Many young people spend their lives envisioning a future that makes current hardships tolerable. Many older people tend to spend their lives living in the past. Both methods distract us from accepting the reality of the situation. On a mini-retirement, at every single point in time you can be doing whatever you want to do, which is a great way to shift your perspective to living and existing in the present while giving yourself the time to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship of the future and the past with the present.
Lets say you’ve decided to throw caution to the winds and head off on a mini-retirement. Here’s what you should be considering
You wake up every morning with the freedom to decide how to spend your day. You can pursue anything that interests you or you can simply do nothing. While its very important to give yourself a chance to not worry about competition, success and achievement, you don’t want to look back at a 6 month break and realize that all you’ve done is bleed Netflix dry. Time should no longer be a constraint but that doesn’t mean there are no constraints. The goal of my current mini-retirement is to learn how to live a more balanced life (which I have struggled with in the past). Keeping my goal in mind, I have set myself a few constraints – exercising 6 days a week (hence no hangovers allowed), no sugar, waking up at a fixed time, limiting myself to 3 movies a week, etc etc. An overarching goal can help you set the constraints which are important checks and balances to ensure you get the most out of your time off.
Once you understand the goal of your mini-retirement, you can start to plan accordingly. Firstly, figure out how much time you need to take for yourself. Anything less than 1 month won’t work; remember, this isn’t a holiday and the shorter the duration you allocate for this exercise, the more disciplined you will have to be with ensuring your actions are in line with your goals. Many companies offer their employees an option to take unpaid leave and this could be ideal to get a few months off with the peace of mind of having something to fall back on. If you have a family, you could get them involved in understanding and helping you with your goals. Contrary to what we are led to believe, living a simple life isn’t very expensive. All you need to account for is rent, food, flight tickets (if you can’t do this from your current location) and maybe a monthly budget for indulgences. We have a tendency to use time and money as an excuse for our inactivity. If you feel that a mini-retirement could improve your life, stop making excuses and find a way to make it happen!
So here I am on my second mini-retirement recalibrating the compass and asking myself again – is the ladder leaning against the right wall? Am I in the correct jungle? There is finally enough time to live in the moment and watch the rain without worrying about the next email or the next message. Enough time to exercise regularly and learn new skills. Instead of learning how to squeeze more minutes out of the day, maybe I need to learn how to squeeze more days out of my life by finding my balance and living in the present. For now, I’m on a mini-retirement and I’ve got all the time in the world to do nothing and to figure out everything.