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The Mini-Retirement Misconception

Photo by Tina Su

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!

 

 

The Lessons

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!

 

Parting Words

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. :)

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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103 thoughts on The Mini-Retirement Misconception

  1. Gregg S

    Wise words.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I appreciate your wise words on the level of hope we place in traveling abroad. The promise of excitement and adventure can outweigh a realistic conception of what traveling abroad is like – especially on a limited budget. I went to Peru last summer for a month and loved it, but I was also homesick and was very happy to get back to my normal routines. I had dreamed of traveling overseas all my life, and while in some ways it fulfilled my expectations, in other ways it was nothing like I had imagined. Having realistic expectations is so important, as is being content wherever you are – just as you said.

  3. If I had all the money in the world, I would be bringing together the amazing people I know to build a business to serve the changing needs of society. That is my way of contributing back to the world and finding meaning in my life. Only through trial, change, learning and building can I really understand who I am.

  4. Devan

    Good article Tina! Having gone through the process recently of being more grateful for what I have, I can wholeheartedly agree that true happiness comes from living NOW, rather than hoping for changes in the future.

    Rather than constantly wishing for a holiday or a change (in the past), I can now sit back in my hammock and enjoy the songs of the birds in the trees. A simple task like sweeping the leaves off the driveway with mindfulness is a chance to leave the hustle and bustle of work behind.

    Happiness is truly where the home and family is. I look forward to travelling more and discovering more of this exciting world we live in, but I am also glad that I have a great family and a place we can all call home.

  5. Thanks so much for this, Tina.

    My favourite of your articles, yet!

  6. Great article, Tina! I’m a natural homebody, and I traveled all over the world as a child, so the idea of a traveling mini-retirement never seemed all that attractive to me! I’m glad you’re bringing up the concept of a vacation at home. Those are my favorite kind!

    But honestly, if I had all the money in the world I think I would still be doing what I’m doing now – writing and working with clients and creating tools that help people with developing their intuition and connecting to their Higher Self. I might offer retreat programs for those who can’t afford them … but in essence, I’d still be doing all the same things! :-)

    Isn’t that what it’s about – finding work that’s so fulfilling we don’t want to retire – ever?

  7. Tina,

    Thank you for reminding that to live life, we don’t need a whole lot. It’s all in our mind. We can enjoy vacation at this moment at the place we are with mindfulness. I’ve been raised in India and I can relate to the points you are making about people. I advice all of my friends here in USA to visit east to feel gratitude about what they have. Excellent post as always. You’re the best.

    Shilpan

  8. Tina,

    I totally hear what you are saying. I have found that traveling is best done as simple as possible. That means the usual tourist spots are not on the list for us.

    The absolute best way to be immersed in another culture is to live and work there. You experience the real deal then. It is more difficult to arrange though.

    Your experience on this trip will serve you well, perhaps in surprising ways.

    Cheers,
    John

  9. Hey welcome back Tina, miss having you around :)

    I like your wisdom and insights about life purpose always.
    Thanks for being who you are and being true to yourself and
    others.

    Love,
    Gamy

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Tina!

    I have always been a big fan of traveling. You are absolutely right that no matter where you are, the rewards in life are in the present moment.

    Funny that many of the times I “want to get away” and go for a trip, are also the times when I am most disconnected with NOW.

    Love your honesty and hearing what you have to say!

  11. Tina:

    I can’t believe that you’re trip is over. When I first read about your trip I was so excited for you and thought that it was an incredible opportunity. Welcome back.

    Darryl Heron

  12. Hmm.. with all the money in the world – honestly – I’d build this building I dreamed up as a little girl which is now forming into something with a lot more detail as a young adult. A place of wellness, therapy, counseling.. and a couple of getaways. :)

    This was a fascinating read for me because I too am a natural homebody (Andrea Hess mentioned this in her comment) and so if I were to choose to go away to someplace completely different, it wouldn’t be for so long. So I admired you for getting up and going with such a strong sense of adventure.

    You did learn alot and that photo is beautiful. Tina- thanks for sharing

  13. Truly awesome lessons you have learned from your trip…

    On the part where you mentioned that “Our Minds Like Problems”… I would prefer to reframe it as “Our Minds like to be kept occupied”. It relates to the human need of feeling significant… If our mind is not thinking about something, it feels uncomfortable… and it seems that it’s not contributing…

    Well at least that’s how I choose to see it =)

  14. Chris Sharp

    Tina. The insights you have just shared can really help people look for presence in the now, the joy it is just to feel into this moment. Like you mentioned, you can feel gratitude for the experiences you have daily. It’s a good attitude no matter where you are, I feel.
    It’s true that many people put the idea, “what’s next?”, into their minds and completely miss THIS moment. I feel that has been the case for nearly every vacation I’ve ever been on. A stillness though created deliberately inside, feeling appreciation for the moment can bring more calm, joy, or excitment than any ‘place’ we think we’ll find it at.

    Anyway to answer the question: What I would be doing is helping on a broader scale, to connect people back to themselves and to others, and to help evolve the consciousness of the planet. I would only be responsible for the money I feel I could be responsible with. Others are geniuses at using money, and can envision for the long-term how the money can best be used. I would entrust to others to do their own magic to use the money for the highest good and intentions, and succeed.

  15. Hemant

    I just got asked that question this weekend. My answer? I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now. Working on reporterist.com to try to make the world a better place. I swear that’s not a shameless plug. Maybe I’d take my wife on a few more vacations if I had a little more money ;)

  16. I must admit I never really saw the appeal of travelling – I enjoy visiting new places, but it’s never been among my top priorities of things to do.

    However, my girlfriend wanted to become fluent in the language and so we’re nearing a year abroad living in Italy. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve loved it. I think you’re right to recommend staying longer and getting more of a feel for the place – it’s such a different experience to rushing round trying to tick off all the sights you’re supposed to see.

    And if I had all the money in the world?

    I’d be doing what I’m doing now, just getting there faster. Trying to build things to make peoples lives better and make the world a bit greener.

  17. Thanks for a great article Tina. It has helped me put some things in perspective. I am start my own mini-retirement in 1 week and will be taking 3 months off between emigrating from England To Australia. I am in the final planning stages now so your article could not have come at a better time.

  18. Hey Tina,
    Great story of traveling, that is almost the news I don’t want to hear! Do you think with a higher budget or staying longer at each destination would help ease the stress of the journey?

    I’m traveling europe this summer for a few weeks, I’m glad I read this before leaving!

    Matt

    **************************
    REPLY:

    Thanks Matt! Having a higher budget may make things more comfortable in terms of hotels and such, but will not make you miss home or feel that traveling isn’t all you’ve hoped it would be. Also, stress related to traveling depends on where you go, Europe is a pretty gentle place and you won’t experience stark cultural contrast as in Asia. I did the Europe thing just after collage and experienced similar feelings of it being long. But do it! It’ll change your life.

    Tina

  19. m_s

    Great post – thanks! I’ve travelled extensively in India, and always found it the hardest place to be. I’ve not been in all the touristy places, but always in little villages and slums. All the familiar western romantic ideas tend to die a hard death within a few days. Of course, with a country that big and with such extremes of wealth, there are many, many Indias, and some will have had completely different experiences to you and me. My travel companion, who has spent 6 months of every year since 1983 in India, has three rules he offers for travelling in India:

    1) No generalisations about India hold.
    2) Nothing will go exactly to plan.
    3) Everything will work out in the end.

    And that has been my experience! Nothing ever ran quite to plan, but everything turned out well in the end…

    Welcome back – it’s good to see the blog waking up again.

  20. Tina:

    Welcome back! Good report on your mini-retirement vacation experience. It’s very similiar to my one week trip to Chicago last week. After just one week, I was looking forward to coming home! That pales in comparison to your trip to India!

    I agree that if you have all the money in the world and you want to travel, it should be kept to a maximum of 6 to 8 weeks with a “go with the flow” kind of mentality.

    Finally, if a person has problems at home, he or she will take them along on a trip. Escaping to another country won’t necessarily make a person’s inner turmoil disappear. Might as well work on them BEFORE going on a trip. That’s what I got from reading this article. Nice job.

  21. Dan

    Well said, Tina. I’m always amazed at how exciting it is to leave, and then how exciting it is to come home, and then how exciting it is to leave, and then…

    Regardless,though, it seems like whether it’s a week or a year, I’m always ready to come home when the time runs out.

    Love the question. All the money in the world? I’d do exactly what I do now, but I might vary the pace at times, have more help, or do things on a larger scale. It’s a question I ask myself a lot to make sure things are on the rails.

  22. Welcome back Tina! This is a super article and I am looking forward to learning more and more from you.

  23. Awesome post, which really gave me some things to think about before I set off to China for 3 months. I will be staying at my boyfriend’s grand parents’ place and so I think that the meeting of family should help ground me and help me feel more welcome, at least for part of the trip. I was also considering teaching English on the side while in one specific city. I think that would be an interesting experience.

    Answer to your question: I would start a not-for-profit organization to bring awareness to the emerging ways of life today. I would use this organization to bring education to those who cannot have it and to coach people into taking back their innate power. Plus I would donate a lot of it to the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and Equality Now.

  24. Hello Tina

    Thanks for the reply and offer of help, When relating to the business world, I see the next step in relating your thoughts to business. We all know about pre-determined expectations. This is counting your chickens before the eggs hatch, many times in business we expect the best to happen, then we find for one reason or another that the other party has destroyed your world by not living up to what was expected.

    All the things you touched on are of the utmost importance in business also, as I’ve been in business for myself since the age of 18 and being self taught, I’ve had to learn many of the important facts the hard way.
    So the readers in business I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying.

    Dealing with International and Domestic markets, I’ve seen real business, Real Good Business and Real Bad Business, Business in the real world I call it, It’s sometimes sad of the lessons we have to learn when dealing with others, that’s why we should never be afraid to ask for help, My advice is Never Never be afraid to ask another person for help, does it make you humble (YES) but being humble is one of the keys to success.

    Anytime I can help another person I always do. This will give you Gratitude to no end, then you touch on preparing for Difficulties, (everyday Business) hearing this come from a lady of such young age tells me that you have been taught very well, you must of had a great Mom and Dad.Great Job

    Anyway I wanted to write a few words in reference to this blog and I wish you all the best, If we can ever help in any way please let us know, anyone that would like advice I’ll always offer what I’ve stored in the cell locker to you.

    To your next or 1st Million I know your going there.

    Darrell

  25. Very interesting post, how lttle we value the precious things we have until we loose them.Your blog is insightful, Keep it up

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