The Mini-Retirement Misconception
When I first learned of the mini-retirement concept, I was immediately attracted to the idea. To me it represented freedom. I had all these romantic notions associated with it, and when I found a way to take three months off from work, I jumped at the first chance and ran with it.
While traveling is an eye-opening experience and a chance to see how others live in vastly different cultures. It is exhausting, on many levels. It quickly became clear to me that the romantic concept of traveling is flawed.
I often ask people: if you had all the money in the world, what would you be doing? The most popular answer is: to quit my job and start Traveling. There’s nothing wrong with this answer, I too have given it many times. However, in this answer, we include the notion of escaping our current realities while longing for something else in its place. And when we actually get to that place which we’ve longed for, disappointments sets in, for it did not meet the expectations conjured by our imagination.
My Personal Story
I left for India three months ago, mesmerized with the ideas of peace and spiritual growth, of ancient cultures and creative stimulation. After we landed, our happy thoughts quickly subsided when we were confronted with culture shock, poverty, pollution, chaos, and haggling (of course, we got the first list as well, but the peace came to us much later). Soon, thoughts of home, family and the usual comforts we took for granted became a regular mantra, and became the focus of our longing. I’m not going to lie, traveling in India as a foreigner was hard. In fact, traveling anywhere foreign for more than a month is hard.
Prior to leaving, I had longed for the freedom to travel. I was tired of my daily routines at the office, I wanted to get away. For years, thoughts of traveling became a kind of escapism and added spices of hope to my work routine which I was quickly losing interest in.
Within a few weeks on the trip, the excitement of exploring new destinations became a routine. Each day, we lined up along the hundreds of other tourists visiting must-see places, walked along souvenir sellers using the same sales tactics, haggled with taxi drivers, and ate the same food offered in all the restaurants catered to travelers. I’m being sarcastic here, but the message is clear: I’ve traded one routine for another. Except now, I longed for something different.
After six weeks of traveling, I was starting to get bored. Sightseeing got old really fast, and I didn’t want to visit another fort or palace again. After eight weeks of floating around without real responsibilities, I was anxious to come home and be productive again.
Despite the amazing things I saw and the heart-warming people I met on the trip, I was excited and ready to jump back into my old reality, again. I couldn’t wait to get home!
While traveling can enrich your life experience and enhance your understandings of other cultures, it will not make you happier and cannot be the solution to your discontentment at home. I’ve learned that, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as I am being productive and contributing towards a greater cause other than myself. Regardless of what I’m doing, true happiness can only be found right now!
Other lessons I’ve learned:
- Our Mind Likes Problems - Because I didn’t have much responsibilities or commitments while I was traveling, my mind was quite unoccupied of problems and conflicts, thus gaining more clarity with my inner thoughts. With my new found mental space and clarity, I noticed that my mind would try to create conflicts in order to fill this extra space; as a result, to disturb the new found peace. My mind would pick up all the little annoyances from around me and try to snowball them into what seemed like life threatening issues to shakeup the inner stillness.
- Don’t Take Things for Granted – During our trip, we realized how little we actually appreciated our everyday conveniences, until we no longer had them. Things like: hot shower, 24hr electricity, running water, a clean toilet which doesn’t leak, restaurants serving consistent meals, pleasant customer service when things go wrong, the availability of lettuce in a grocery store. When we landed in Heathrow airport on our return flight, I was shocked and grateful to find the bathrooms with toilet paper. I now give thankful thoughts to every little thing that contributes towards my comfort and wellbeing. Simple things like having running water, supple food, and my comfortable home.
- We Need Very Little – After traveling in one bag for several months, it became clear how little we actually need in order to be happy. After coming home to the rest of my stuff, they felt like heavy burdens which weighed on my soul.
- Happiness Is Here, Now – Regardless of what we’re doing, we can find happiness in this moment. The problem is, we often do not seek happiness in this moment, and then become consumed with reasons why we should escape this moment. Instead of focusing on why you’re not happy, ask yourself: what can I gain from this moment? What can I learn? What good can be drawn from this situation? Where is the goodness, where is the beauty?
- Purpose & Meaning – Once the essentials in our lives are fulfilled, we need purpose and meaning. I learned that feeling productive and working towards a purpose is important to me. Extended periods of doing nothing will result in boredom.
- Slow Down – It’s amazing how rushed we become as we move through our hectic schedules, running from one task to the next, and packing our calendars with more commitments than we can handle. Many people I encountered in the extreme north and south of India, lived with such simplicity, clarity and calmness, yet they are some of the happiest people I’ve met. They carried an unspoken grace with them, and smiled cheerfully at anyone. I can just imagine now, as we go to bed after an exhausting and full day of running around, the rest of the world is starting a new day: Mr. Nawang in Ladakh is tending to his apricot trees and making breakfast for his guests with a large smile. Mr. Thomas in Alleypy is sitting along the Kerala backwaters to enjoy the sun rise and waving at families passing by in bamboo boats on their way to the morning market.
Tips for Your Mini-Retirements
- No Expectations – Things never turn out the way we expect, and pre-determined expectations can decrease our joy while we’re in the moment of truth. I can only tell you that, during our trip, expectations have only lead to disappointments. While it’s hard not to have any expectations, try to minimize them by wearing an open mind and a positive outlook to welcome new experiences. Instead of being disappointed from failed expectations, focus on the lessons learned that contributed to you as a person. Focus on things you enjoyed. Focus on the gains.
- Take Your Time – Don’t try to see everything on one trip. Otherwise, you’ll get burnt out really fast and will start to resent your trip. Aim to see less number of cities and spend more time in each. I recommend, no less than a week in each new city.
- But, Not Too Much Time – As I’ve mentioned, we got bored after week six. By week ten, we couldn’t wait to get home. While there were many amazing things still left to see, we missed the simple conveniences of home. Of course, everyone is different, but if you’re like us, we don’t recommend going for more than 6-8 weeks, unless you had other purposes and plans.
- Vacation At Home – Just because we have vacation time, doesn’t mean that we need to travel somewhere far. After feeling exhausted from our trip, we’ve taken a special fondness towards the concept of vacationing at home. There are so many relaxing things you can do: get on a healthy exercise and diet routine, work on a home project, get organized again, spend days in a comfortable chair curled up with some good books, do a movie marathon with your loved ones. What sounds good to your soul?
- Have a Purpose on the Trip – Instead of traveling as just a sightseeing tourist, consider staying in one place for an extended period of time to work on a personal or social project. This will add more meaning to your trip, and will give you the opportunity to get to know an area and culture beyond the tourist destinations. Some ideas: volunteering to teach at monasteries and schools, volunteering at a charity, take a meditation or yoga class, take a cooking or language or dance class, start a personal art project.
- Daily Gratitude – At the end of the day, make sure to list out the things you are grateful for that day. You can do so by whispering out aloud with closed eyes and a smile just before bed. Traveling can be challenging for the body and mind, and it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and unpleasant events that occurred during the day. Practicing gratitude will help you maintain a positive outlook and to focus on things that you’ve enjoyed.
- Prepare for Difficulties – Know ahead of the time that you may encounter difficult situations and people. Prepare your mind for such thing by reminding yourself that this is the perfect opportunity to practice acceptance and understanding.
- Don’t Plan Everything – Have a rough idea of what you want to do and see, but don’t tightly pack everything to a schedule. Leave some room to adjust the sail, based on the wind conditions of your trip. For example, when we left, we only had our flight tickets to Delhi and one other flight booked to our second city. We eventually booked nine other flights while we were traveling. This gave us tremendous flexibility and a sense of exploration.
- Do Budget – Prior to leaving, plan how much you’d like to spend in total, and then only leave that much in your checking account. Budget major categories such as transportation costs, hotels and other spending. We did this roughly but did not follow-through to re-evaluate our budget during the trip. As a result, we ended up spending much more money than planned. Remember this: it doesn’t matter how cheap things cost, they can add up very quickly into a large number.
- Smile – Smile often and do so authentically, even to those who has ripped us off. It’s much more attractive and better for our health than feeling bitter about it. Laugh it off!
In the end, our three months trip was a tremendous learning experience about ourselves and in coping with extreme circumstances, both positive and not so positive.
I’m still a fan of the mini-retirement concept, except I now have a better understanding of what it means to have a lot of idle time and its challenges. Next time we have a mini-retirement, we’ll be spending a third of that time vacationing at home. Oh Yeah!
The point of this article was not to advocate that traveling is bad, but rather that it is a learning experience with its own set of challenges. It’s not all perfection, as created by our perception. Our perception is interested in creating distractions to escape this moment. Lots of people set the idea of traveling on a pedestal (especially authors and media), but in doing so, we treat the present moment as a mere means to an end, and forget that happiness can only be found in the Now.
It’s important to have dreams and goals, but don’t forget to experience joy, Now. In between striving towards our dreams, remind ourselves to step back and see what we can do to find joy in what we’re doing, regardless of what we’re doing, right now.
Open Question to the Audience:
If you had all the money in the world, what would you be doing?
Share your answers in the comments. I can’t wait to read them. Thanks for sharing, my friend. :)