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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. Greg

    the moment I let go of it was the moment
    I got more than I could handle
    the moment I jumped off of it
    was the moment I touched down

    how bout no longer being masochistic
    how bout remembering your divinity
    how bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
    how bout not equating death with stopping

    thank you india
    thank you providence
    thank you disillusionment
    thank you nothingness
    thank you clarity
    thank you thank you silence

    – alanis morissette – thank u

    This song seems to fit your experiences.

  2. Life is full of surprises, and some of them are fun. Others are simply, well, surprising, when things do not turn out as expected.

    I like the way you evaluate what works for you and what does not work for you.

    Lexi

  3. A really interesting and refreshing perspective on travelling and taking time out – I’ve always thought I may find travelling would become a routine eventually – I’ve not been yet, but am certainly bearing that in mind.

    I can imagine that it really does make you appreciate what you do have in the here and now and the benefits of living in our society as opposed to only seeing the negatives.

    If I had that much money I didn’t need to work – I’d see the world a bit, maybe build my dream house, but then I’d have to have a business or some project to occupy me – eventually then doing charitable work of some kind that would give back to society that I’d prospered in.

  4. I think I would buy myself a place that was only mine. Even if I had a family, I just want some place I can go and be by myself.

    I would always have to work even if I didn’t have too. My mind goes a mile a minute and can only be idle for so long before I get antsy.

    I definitely would see the world. And then I would volunteer somewhere, I always wanted to help build a school, so I would do that.

    You are inspiring me to get back into my photography! :)

  5. Once again, thank you Tina for sharing with us the tips on mini-retirement. :)

    I’ve stumbled and dugg this article. :)

  6. Azeem

    Tina,
    Actually i came to know ur blog thru one of your comments on Zen habits..To say your blog is a beautiful one with lots of valuable and great content…Love the articles posted here…Will forward to be a part of ur community and also looking forward to see lots of helpful content in the future….Thanks for your posts..Good Luck and keep up the great work…

    Regards
    Azeem

  7. FFB

    I think it all depends on what you plan for your mini-retirement. If you plan to see tourist locations then there will be some stress with that. But a retirement should mean to get away and re-charge. Not so much to go out and make up for lost time but just stop work and round out the rest of your life.

    All the money in the world. Well, I’d be in danger every day since the whole world would be after me! Or my money would be effectively worthless. But I get what you’re asking. If I had unlimited wealth I would definitely want to experience different cultures around the world. I think my hobbies would take more prominence too, maybe becoming more of a career of sorts (or a lifetime learning might be a better description). I would truly be able to spend quality time with my family and take a real good part in my kid’s growth.

  8. Nina

    I found that when I went to Europe for three weeks it was too much time away from home. I can’t even imagine what three months would be like!

    If I had all the money in the world I move to the country and open a little bakery to share my baked goodness with everyone!

  9. Wow! This is such a great article and I am so impressed by your site! And I just clicked over to adamtina.com…..thanks for making me feel like I took a trip to India without leaving my air conditioning!

  10. I can totally relate. Our minds really do want to tackle new problems.

    The thing is to choose problems that will make our life better such as creating good relationships, choosing our dream career, making a difference for others, etc.

    Recently my need for new problems delivered a new puppy into my life. All the cute romance was gone very quickly as we began training her. But as she is getting better, I’m starting to see the fruits of my labor from training her.

    We also need variety and security. Travel=variety. Home=security.

  11. Nate

    You got it, Live moment by moment. Philosophers have been so wise for centuries. It is usually a lesson learned the hard way. I guess thats why they call it self-awakening.

    Perhaps your title is a little of-base. Instead of mini-retirements being a complete misconception, maybe it only shattered your own preconceived romanticism. Going to India is probably more opposite of the spectrum as any place on Earth from Seattle. There are many great places to disappear to that wouldn’t leave you so dissolutioned. Here are my favorites:

    1) Work your way down the coast of Italy
    Ancient Pompei Italy. For the archaeologist in you, this wonderland is literally like stepping back 2100 years. Most of the city is still in tact, but it is so tangible that you can feel how the Romans must have felt. Walk through the mansions, the bakeries, shops, horse stalls, roads, fountains. It really is mystifying for the imagination. Yes it is only a full day and not 3 months, but it sure changed my perspective.

    Venice Italy. A lovers paradise. Sure this place is crawling with tourists, but the romanticism in the air is so thick, it certainly affected me & my wife.

    Florence Italy, Yes another stop in Italy, the Italians sure put their passion into the culture. The entire city is giant Renaissance canvas, even the streets and gutters have style! Estimated 75% of all Renaissance works are housed here. This place just makes you awe at the creativity of man.

    2) Switzerland – Just about every city in Switzerland is a Utopia. I lived in Basel for 3 months and absolutely loved it. I was stocking shelves in a grocery store and it was the best summer of my life! Simple, enjoyable, language challenges to overcome, friendly people to get to know. Luzurn, Basel, Lugano, Geneva, Zürich, they are all fantastic. The Swiss have a sustainable way of life, a national pride, politically neutral, friendly people and with 3 official languages, a short train ride will transport you into a new culture.

    Actually, there are too many to list here. Tina, My point is, instead of discounting mini-retirements as just an escape from your current reality to the next, perhaps your experiences would have been much more enjoyable with a different destination and/or different objectives. Just as Tim Ferriss admits, mini-retirements need to be paired with something personally productive & gratifying. Such as spending those 3 months in an intensive language school. Or working for a non-profit building schools. Learning a new sport, working on a research publication, chef school, interning under an inspiring mentor. Whatever keeps you excited, stimulated and challenges you. Too much Idle time doesn’t feel right for the same reasons the weeds grow in the garden if you don’t tend it.

    You right, Idle travel does get old, I reached some of the same conclusions as you did. But once you find more purpose for your explorations, it opens up a whole new world of inspiration!

    Nate

    ************************************
    REPLY

    Thanks for the suggestions Nate! Florence is one of my favorite cities in the world, Florence and Santorini in the Greek Islands. I’ve spend time there and will be back for something more substantial. Maybe language school or a photography project. I’ve not spent too much time in Switzerland, but I will.. thanks to your suggestions.

    You’re also right about the title. :)

  12. Dear Tina,
    If I ever sit down and sum up my Travel & all the memorable experiences, I cannot erase them from my thoughts ever.It has always brought in a smile on my face, a bliss of excitment and bundle of sweet memories neatly packed in for ever.
    I have always taken great pains to work out every single details for my Holiday,be it Hotels,Food,places to visit…places that can be skipped.We always walk in to the destination with it’s glossy images one can ever imagine.
    But sometimes reality can turn to be different.A reality shock can be fatal too.I have learned in such times, to keep your cool.Take your worries abay.Cheer up & smile to your heart…remind your self
    ” I am on a Holiday ”
    Reverse on your decisions and go on to do what can please you best.
    Pamper yourself all the way.Slow down your fast pace.If you are with your family, see that they are ” Truely Enjoying ”
    Happiness is truely Divine.What else do you need from a Holiday….It is Happiness …with yourself & with your family.

    I think if all that is taken care of…sometimes some shortfalls can be forgotten.
    Dear Tina I thank you for visiting India & sharing all the wonderful experiences with of too.
    Warm Regard’s
    Sharad

  13. Great, great, great post.

    It seems like this would benefit a lot of people if they were able to do it at a young age (like the cliche travel around the world right after college), since a lot of people fresh out of college might have trouble putting things into perspective. I agree with you 100% about not taking things for granted. That really is one of the most important things in life that I wish more people would think about.

  14. Karen

    I hear you Tina!

  15. Tina, your post reminded that “where ever you go, there you are.” Interesting that in most vacations, the best thing would be if we could take a vacation from ourselves. But, alas, we always go with us, don’t we? :-)

    My love of travel has lessened in the past year. Not for any external factor, but simply because of the obvious fact that, as you said, “happiness is here, now.” I can be just as happy at home as elsewhere. Cool.

    Nice post.

  16. Alexa

    Great post and you’re so right! We travel a lot but never over 3 weeks at a time. The only reason I would go for a longer period of time would be — there you have it! for volunteering. But then I’d need to have some extra cash and the mortgage paid out :-)
    With all the money in the world, I would do exactly what I am doing right now, I wouldn’t change a bit. I would only LOVE to donate more to people in need and certain causes that I heart. I feel that we need to do more, way more.

  17. Ahaa1life

    Hi Tina,
    I started following your blog a few weeks back. Your thoughts reflect your wisdom and balance of the personality. Amazing thing about the thoughts that struck me – you listen (and let flow yourself) to your inner buzz (may be even inside ‘chaos’ if its not too harsh ?) and capture the essence in structured way! Superb! Not many minds can claim to have that ability. Same is true even about your photo collection.
    Let your blogs be an uninterrupted source of joy and inspiration to its followers.
    Good luck.
    Ahaa1life

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

    That is so sweet! One of the highest complements I’ve ever received. I am honored. :)
    Thank you for the positive feedback and for reminding me that the act of writing for this blog is a source of joy for myself.

    Hugs,
    Tina

  18. Hi Tina – thanks for the link to our blog.

    Very honest post and I can totally relate to how you felt about longer term travel – it’s exactly how Jonathan & I felt when we travelled around Oz & NZ for 3 months (which I know is nothing like travelling round India!!)…”not another spectacular vista” became our daily comment. And then you have all sorts of feelings of guilt because you’re so privileged to be there etc. etc.

    Do you think you’d feel differently if you had a project of some sort to focus on whilst you were travelling?

    That’s certainly how we feel about our business – it’s the one constant in our lifestyle right now and at times we do wonder what we’d do if we didn’t have it to focus on, keep us productive and keep us focused and ambitious.

    It does mean however that the travel becomes a way of life/type of lifestyle rather than being the destination or the goal.

    If I had all the money in the world? I’d do what I’m doing now plus I’d set up a special kind of orphanage somewhere in SE Asia and give the kids an education and a ‘home’.

  19. Tina, you’re fantastic, & you couldn’t be more right. I love your insights! <3

  20. I completely sympathize with you. I’ve taken time to travel and have carried burdens on my shoulders regardless of my responsibilities.
    It is important to experience other cultures, but home is your culture. Happiness comes from within, not from the excitement of adventures

  21. Tania

    Fantastic! It’s so good to hear someone be honest about traveling!

  22. Tina, read this post over a few times, it so resonated with me. The words “Be careful what you wish for…” come to mind. One wonders if you would have felt different had it been an easier place to travel in, whilst India is definitely on my must see countries, the heat, the poverty and all the things that come with such a country could really test anyone for 3 months. I think too I would be craving the comforts of home and yet it really resonates because most of us are living in the future somewhere, hoping and wishing that things might be different from now.

    Having just listened to Eckhart Tolle’s webcasts and read the book for a third time (it gets in the more you read it), I really am ‘getting’ being here now. Three simple words but this to me was the essence of your post.

    Also, why this post is potent for me is because for so long with a career I was ‘wanting something different, anything other than what I was doing’. Then the eureka came, well if I just keep on keeping on doing the same things I must be happy in some way doing them. So an acceptance came over me, an aha moment, where I truly accepted where I was right then. And instead of the dreaming of countries far afield, I was sitting in my lounge room with a smile on my face.

    The more I accept the nowness instead of running away from it, or zoning out from it, the more peaceful I become and appreciative, oh so appreciative of what I have and am.

    Thanks for a brilliant post!
    Hugs
    Lise (Stumbleupon) x

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

    Hi Lise,

    Thank you for sharing a beautiful comment regarding this post. You are right in getting that the essence of this article is “To be here now, and only by being here Now, can you experience lasting joy.” I took felt that I was in a place of ‘wanting something different, anything other than what I was doing’, and after this experience, I realized that the best opportunities for career growth and happiness right at home. I had taken advantage of how good I had it. So after coming back, I made some external change within my control (I interviewed with another team, for a position I’ve always wanted), and am now more satisfied than ever about my days at work.

    Your comment reminds me that I want to meditate again. To have sometime everyday in silence and peace, to experience clarity and stillness.

    Hugs,
    Tina

  23. ansi

    If I had all the money in the world, I’d give it back. It wouldn’t be fair, you know? That said, if I could do whatever I wanted and not worry about money, I would donate a lot to research and investments – things like research in the health sciences and extending technology/resources to poorer countries. After that, maybe there would be time to open up safe havens for kids and young adults all over the world for them to learn about experiences outside of their own neighborhoods and if ever they need a productive environment, etc.

    The idea of traveling constantly still appeals though. I’d love to go for one-week stays all around the world every two months or so.

  24. Phalene

    If I had all the money in the world? Move to a big city and work towards a career that was satisfying without worrying about money (and by extension) part time work. Right now, as a starving student, it feels like life is skut work, and it would be nice to do unpaid internships and volunteer work instead of retail & call centre work.

    And being able to afford school entirely would be cool. It would be nice to be able to afford my own apartment instead of being stuck with the cheapest housing I could afford outside a cardboard box.

    I think I’d want to travel, but not really more that I do now, just to more locations than I can currently afford. Europe, and so forth.

    Money certainly wouldn’t make me smarter, prettier, a better person or luckier in life or love, but it would take some of the pressure off.

  25. What a wonderful experience you had!

    The mini-retirement sounds a lot like the concept of a Sabbatical – where you take a 6-month rest from work every 7-10 years. The time is generally used to make space for personal and spiritual growth and perspective, and to get restored in a deep way. I have several friends who have taken a Sabbatical, and had amazing experiences!

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