Over the past five months I have intentionally taken a sabbatical from full-time work for a test drive of the early retirement lifestyle.
Other than a fabulous 2 month cross-country road trip Mr. Hippie and I took almost 8 years ago, I have never been this unemployed this long. So, after the stars aligned for me and an incredibly well-timed layoff occurred right at the brink of total and complete burnout, I decided to take the plunge to see if I actually jived with the whole early retirement lifestyle.
Eight Things I Have Learned About Myself During My Sabbatical:
Me Without Stress:My personality is radically different without grandiose levels of work-related stress. During the past few years I had been working at least 60+ hour weeks and found that my life and my thought processes were dialed to survival mode and seldom changed. But, after a few months of decompressing, I spend a lot more time thinking about philosophy, current events, what the meaning of existence is, and what kind of person I want to be. I’m a more thoughtful friend, partner, and family member because I can dedicate more brain space to the people I love as well.
Enjoying Work: Turns out I thoroughly enjoy working a few hours a week. I like the feeling of a job well done and being rewarded with capital I can convert to anything I could possibly need at the store. As a result, I have sought out freelancing just a couple hours a week to the tune of around $200-300/month. It has kept me engaged with the general public, gets me out of the house, keeps my skills sharp, and encourages me to not wear pajamas all day… at least every once in a while. Knowing this about myself is invaluable as someone pursuing FIRE because it means that my FI number could be lower overall if I plan on earning a few hundred a month. Alternatively, I could keep my FI number as is and stroll into early retirement having a secret weapon to weather downturns better.
Frugality: Surprisingly, I have actually become much more of a frugal weirdo. I have had time to think about things like ‘should I pick up pennies on the ground’? My beer money earnings are higher than they’ve been in years. I throw down with coupons now. I have time to take the bus downtown instead of spending on gas, vehicle depreciation, and parking. On one hand, I seem to value my time less and will engage in more time-consuming strategies to save money. On the other, this is evidence that my retirement spending will be less than my working career spending.
Unstructured Time: Having 100% unstructured time is extremely difficult for me. I have been inserting more commitments such as volunteering, fitness classes, educational classes, time with friends, and community events into my schedule to counterbalance this and also help me become more involved in my community. Working part-time would also be a wonderful solution to this as well. Ultimately, I don’t think society trains us or encourages us to develop the skills to thrive within an unstructured schedule. In the US at least, we begin our tutelage in sitting behind a desk 7-8+ hours a day, Monday through Friday, shortly after we learn how to walk and talk… and we don’t finish for another 13 years. All this to say developing this skill set is going to take quite a bit of practice unlearning some of the habits that have been so ingrained in me and developing a new type of discipline.
Loneliness: I am a shy person! No surprise there, really. But, what did catch me off guard is how often I want to be around people. As it turns out, I am actually way more extroverted than I thought and prefer social interaction nearly everyday. Extroversion and shyness may not necessarily go hand-in-hand, so engaging in some of the structured activities I’ve mentioned before have helped quite a bit with this. This strategy fits in very well with the conventional FIRE wisdom of building the life you want first.
Net Worth:As of mid-February, my net worth had increased by approximately $40,000 since I left my full-time job. Don’t get me wrong, I am still roughly several years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars away from FIRE, but seeing these numbers go up was incredibly reassuring. As of March 2020, thanks to the recent downturn I am approximately back to where I started this year. But, thus far I have had a lot of peace about this. Any anxiety I may have had is also further mitigated by the fact that I do intend on returning to the workforce this Summer after I have finally finished my very part-time, low-cost Master’s program.
Rejection: Even though I was incredibly burned out, was excited to not have to work for my employer anymore, and on paper I was set up financially for this to work out perfectly, I still registered the layoff as a loss on some emotional level. Even though I was happy, it did feel a bit like rejection. I worked through this by reframing the narrative to everyone I spoke with about my change of pace and emphasized how excited I was.
Identity:I had to deal with my identity changing. Not long after my last day a Lyft driver asked me what I did for a living on the way to the airport and I froze up. Do I give my old job title? Just list the industry I worked in? Say I was taking some time off?
Ultimately, the things I have learned about myself during my “FIRE Drill” have changed my perspective on FIRE and what the rest of my life will look like. I’m incredibly grateful for what I have learned about myself and the opportunity to recover from burnout.
What about you, dear reader? Have you ever had the opportunity to take a sabbatical? Can you relate to any of these sentiments?