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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. Eric Liao

    Good to have you back. As usual, your message always insightful. Doing nothing is not easy job. We human being tend to gain power or sense of self-mastery through doing. That explains why people repeat their mistake or bad habit over and over again. I personally take sabbatical since last Dec. most of time I stayed at home and realize doing nothing is better than doing wrong things though while I am trying to initiate project or goal which I think it’s right thing.

  2. alicia

    this article really affirms my own experiences! after I left my last full time position, I took 6 months off. I did not travel, I stayed home. I sometimes felt like I was not a go-getter when talking to others. They would ask, “That is great you are taking time off! What will you do? Will you travel?” I would say no, and explain my ideal routine of some exercies, yoga, gardening, relaxing at home, reading a lot, spending time with loved ones, and doing some home organization & personal projects. I often felt this response was not valued in our rush-run-do-it-all-once, max-out-your-life society. But if felt so right to me, and I am so grateful I had that opportunity to spend my time that way. One thing I surprisingly enjoyed was going to the grocery store in the middle of the day & taking my time picking out food for us. That is a very different experience from picking up some pre-made food in a rush on the way home from work. The grocery stores are very empty in the middle of the day :) It is invaluable in this society to regain control of scheduling our time, and how to spend it. How often do we really get to be in tune with our own rhythm of life, after work, family, social & practical commitments are covered?

  3. Thanks for the advice, we tend to see that the grass is always greener on the other side without realizing that nothing is perfect in this world. Mini retirement is meant to rediscover our passion and to establish new routines which lead to happiness, so it all begins with what you’re saying about purpose. I’m planning to take a sabbatical in 2-3 years to pursue my passion in business in other countries, hopefully it won’t be just another routine for me ;)

  4. Great article Tina, and you’re right most people probably couldn’t take more than 6 weeks of the unknowns and difficulties and mundane reality of travel without wanting to go home and live nice and easy again. I have travelled extensively in my life and am one if the people who always goes for 5-6 months and loves the challenge of learning a language and getting to know how other people live. I’m off to Spain, London and Paris this week for a month and I’m kinda nervous actually, wondering whether I’ll like something that is so obviously a “holiday”. So far Thailand is the only country I have been to where I have done vacation length stays and that’s perfect because you just lie around and rejuvenate.

    For me the key to the long haul trick is
    A) I write and different cultures inspire me so every day is worthwhile
    B) Live in the moment and try to really connect with everyone. I have spent days just talking and exploring with people and then never seen them again, but I still remember them fondly now because human connection is a very special thing. For me, it;s what life is all about
    C) Volunteer or Work
    D) Study a language or anything really but stick around in one place and get to know the people, the food, and most importantly YOURSELF in a whole new context

    But I agree it is nice to have a base to go home to. So if I had unlimited money I would live near where my home is now, on the beach for 6-9 months a year only taking mini breaks for a few days in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Then for 3-6 months a year I would pack up and go travelling for part of it and then lease a house somewhere and settle into a new routine and write for most of the time. Then home again to start all over again. I get bored living in one place so this would be perfect for me and my family.

    Nice article.
    Kelly

  5. I agree.

    I think the key is to unleash your passion in your job and explore more (whether it’s yourself, your job, or the world.) I used to think I needed to get away from work; instead, I had to reinvent my job and myself. I’ve made that a pattern now.

    When I’ve done my cross-country road trips, I learned to appreciate home more and I learned that while a lot of places are nice to visit I wouldn’t want to live there. I also learned that simply traveling for the sake of traveling, wasn’t as rewarding. Instead, it was “why” I traveled, and “how” that really made the trips.

    The most insightful thing from traveling was that when you travel, you are the only thing you take with you, for better or for worse. I ended up in a lot of scenarios where I wish I had more skills in certain things. That was my best wake up call.

  6. Saintly

    Great article Tina,

    Reflections on past experiences can help change your view & the way we see things later on.

    I spent time in India quite a few years ago as a part of a 12 month world trip, I was there mid Summer & it was bloody hot, I didn’t enjoy it at the time. Looking back now, it was the best country I visited for many reasons, mainly for the what I experienced, it reminded me of the 1920’s & the 1800’s mixed all in one. A crazy place.

    I wanted to comment briefly on your tips for your mini retirement, in particular the first & last tips, No Expectations, I’ve learnt that our future can be a projection of what our Ego wants us to percieve, as you say, “can & does lead to dissapointment”. Go into the future with an open mind, expect & take nothing for granted !

    Lastly “Smile” how hard is it, something so simple, we all should smile more often. “Laugh & the angels rejoice”

    Cheers

    Saintly

  7. Just to share, my mother-in-law went to India on a 3-month trip that claimed her life. A Caucasian, she had previously ordained as a Buddhist nun, so that she could renounce her cares. It was not a big deal to give up the cushy life that she had with us in Singapore but going to India was totally different.

    As a nun, she could not carry money. And that was how she went – without a single cent. She only bought return air tickets.

    My mother-in-law wanted to experience India because she thought the trip would enhance her spiritual growth. It was an opportunity for her to meditate at some of the holy places.

    After a month in an Ashram, she was kicked out to stay on the streets. It was when she discovered how it felt like to live without a shred of security. If you have been walking on the streets, I am sure you will know how appalling the conditions can be.

    In the end, she caught a disease through her gut. Hygiene was bad and she was living on scraps and sleeping in the open, under the stars. All these while, we never knew what happened to her, since she had no access to a phone or the internet.

    She caught the return flight back but did not live more than 6 months after. Unfortunately, she never managed to write her book on her experiences and the insights that she gained.

    It’s been already 3 years but the little that I’ve gleaned from her about life in India remains.

    Evelyn

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

    Wow, Evelyn. I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing the story. I could just see her in my mind on the streets of India and that makes me sad. Really sad.

  8. This is a very detailed and informational article. It was a delight to read. Thank you for taking the time to write and post it.

    You are one in a billion Tina :)

    I added the 200th Digg to this article, keep up the fantastic work!

  9. Trix

    It was Arnold toynbee I think who wrote about a “window view” …

    And the cliche goes “the journey is the destination”

    Evelyn’s mother-in-law suffered a sad end… but stark reality can be brutal, as it is in Afganisthan, Somalia or Chechnia… or in the face of a natural / manmade disaster.

    The Buddha told the snake which was stoned to the verge of death “Son, I told you not to bite, but did I forbid you to hiss?”

    Imagine Gandhi trying to practise ‘Non-Violence’ in Hitlers Germany!

    Keep up the good work…

    ; )

  10. If I had all the money in the world, I would fulfill two lifelong dreams: 1) I would buy a little house in the mountains, 2) I would spend my days writing.

    That is my bliss,

    Suzanne.

  11. honestly i think the mistake you made was picking india as your mini retirement. i don’t know anyone who has gone there and enjoyed it! my answer is still traveling….but to more enjoyable and relaxing places. :)

  12. Hi Tina,

    First and most important of all – welcome back. Next, with
    or without money I would be doing exactly what I am doing right now. Wow – it feels great to be able to say that.

    Money is just money, but life is for living and enjoying. When we relegate money to it’s proper position, we can really appreciate the gift of life.

    Rich or poor, young or old – once we learn to celebrate life each and every day, then we take our place among the wealthiest and happiest people on earth.

    Kindest,
    Jonathan

  13. You reminded me when I was young, I travelled alone in Europe for a month w/ Europe by Train pass. I cannot remember in 1991 or 1992 Easter. I spend 600 pounds [British pound] for the whole trip. Super cheap budget. Killed 30 rolls of film. From Italy Sisley [walk up to see volcano] to Sweden Boden [try to get in Arctic Circle].
    When you were young, you will do something crazy.

  14. You’ve tackle my obsession and my problem. I’ve seen my life, past and current life, as a mean to an end: to travel. Because then I’ll be happy. It’s great to read an article such as this to put things into perspective. Kudos!

  15. Great article Tina! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I can understand where you’re coming from. I recently spent several months taking care of sick and elderly parents. The demands of it, coupled with all the stress made me really appreciate my own comfortable life.

    Check it out in my article “The Comforts of Home.” on Funspirit.
    http://funspirit.blogspot.com/2008/03/comforts-of-home.html

  16. Hi, thank you for this article. It reminds me when my family went to Orlando them parks a few months ago, I couldn’t go because of personal issues, and I really wished I could be with them, relaxing, having fun.

    Then when they came back they were exhausted, it seemed like they went to a training facility, all tired and irritated. Later I found out that they were rushing from park to park, from game to game, eating fast, etc. It really was an eye-opener for me on how NOT to travel.

    You have great lessons, specially “Happiness is Here, Now”.

    Love your blog,

    Paolo

  17. I couldn’t have read this at a better time. My Husband and I are leaving in a month for the East to have our official honeymoon. We have both been swamped with work and social activities and keep saying things like we just need to make it one more month and we’ll be away.. or we can’t wait to escape etc etc…

    You are so right! We take for granted what we have, who we have in our lives and we always think the grass is greener on the other side. I think I am going to be leaving on this trip with a very different attitude now and also not expect too much from it! ;)Thank you, I enjoyed you story!


    Kim Gray
    Stylist
    Web: http://www.kimgray.za.net

  18. Tina: Welcome back! Although I’ve officially “retired” from blogging, I haven’t retired from reading blogs and commenting on them. To your question, what would I do if I had all the money in the world?

    I would start my own crisis management and business consulting company. I would then travel the world offering workshops for free (requiring only room & board and meals for me and my wife).

    Having worked for 3.5 years on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, I saw (like you did) the shortage of things (which were mostly stuff but which were sometimes important). I noticed that while their hearts were in the right place their methods in achieving their goals were outdated or lacking. If I had money, I would return and offer free workshops (just like I did when I was there).

    It’s good to share and, in the process, learn from others.

  19. BK

    Very insightful posting and sharing! I couldn’t have agreed more when you said not to take things for granted. Where I live, in Singapore, I believe a lot of people do take things for granted; like turning on the tap to running and consummable water, 24 hours electricity, clean public toilets etc.

    Looking from their perspectives, they are not wrong in taking things for granted because they will never be able to understand from personal experience what you had been through. They can read about others’ experiences or watch it on TV and they may be affected when they see children on TV going hungry but after a while everything goes back to usual – unless they go through the experience themselves. I pity them in a way as they are like frogs living in a well.

    I was once a frog, like a lot of people, until I was fortunate enough to live and work in one of the developing countries. As what you mentioned, when you are traveling as a tourist, you will eventually get bored especially if without a purpose. However, living and working in a country was one fantastic experience; I gotten to explore and to learn about a whole new culture, I had the opportunities to go to places that tourists never been to, I had the honor to attend some weddings and dinners etc. Those experience certainly enriched my life in a big way.

    I agree with you on the point of Daily Gratitude as I do say out the things I am grateful for whenever I meet with challenges. That will allow me to focus on the positive things and to be back in control. Probably a better practise will be as what you mentioned, “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.

    Thank you for sharing this post.

  20. Craig

    Your site is intriguing and your thoughts after the India trip have really hit home.

    All of my traveling has been for business. We always try to mix in a bit of fun and I can say that our hosts in each country have always treated us very well. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many different destinations and can say that I hold a fondness for certain people that impacted my experience in each of those countries. I think many of these would have developed into friendship if more time had been available. The memory of places or landmarks often fades but I never seem to forget the people.

    Most of my trips have been 10-14 days each in countries all over the world (although I did spend a special three weeks in India). While business reasons take me to each location, I find the traveling experience extremely enjoyable and gratifying. Perhaps the business trips are so enjoyable due to the perfect mix of purpose, new experiences and paid expenses!

    In the end, my perfect vacation (on personal time and personal dime) remains a week at home with the family. Most often, I find myself ready to go back to work.
    Thanks for the blog. I plan to continue checking in from time to time.

  21. Great experience… Thanks for sharing it to everyone! It makes me think and plan some things ahead.
    I was hoping to have an experience as yours and start internalizing and realizing simple yet important things in life. Your story is great and I hope it inspires others as what your article did to me. Thank you…

  22. Find your happiness with what you have right now is a valuable lesson.

    If I had all the money in the world, I would probably travel more with my family and purchase a summer home, but that’s it. I’m at the point where I’m doing something I really love to do and money would just give me the financial security to not have to worry about the house payment. I have some friends who are in that situation– all the money they could possibly need but no direction or passion in what they’re doing. To me, that’s a sad place to be in.

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

    Nice to see you here Karen! In addition to what I’m already doing. I would do the same, travel more with my family and purchase a summer home by a water stream. Simple. :)

  23. Wow! I really enjoyed this blog. I don’t travel, but, I could identfy with alot of what you wrote. This is a great blog. Thanks for writing it.

  24. Yes, mini-retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve heard the saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

    The times when I don’t have a work project gone can be my least productive. It seems that the more “spare” time you have, the faster it fills up (if you get my drift) I have had to learn to really discipline myself.

    Anyway, excellent post. You covered so much and I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

  25. simplifydude

    I totally understand how you guys felt in India. It must be difficult to go trough all this…no paper in the washroom…sounds scary! I spent 30 years of my life in a country where you have to be very tough in order to survive. Now, I live in N. America and don’t even want to go back home.

    I agree that if you go to another country for more than 15 days, you need to go there for some purposes different than just walking and looking at the sightseeings. Me and my wife went to LA and Vegas for 10 day and despite the fact that there was hot water, paper in the washrooms, very pleasant people, good food and nice weather, we still got tired after this trip, and now we need 2 days just to relax at home and go back to our routines.

    What I am going to do if I have all the money in the world?
    I will keep doing what I am doing now: studying, working, exercising, spending enough time with my family, enjoying the little things around me, being grateful that I am alive and healthy.
    It is that simple. No escapes, no fake dreams, only real simplicity and happiness NOW.

    P.S. I still don’t understand why people in N.America dream about retirement. Isn’t it easier if they just work something they really enjoy. In this case you don’t have to retire because work is not work anymore, it’s fun.

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