Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jillian Johnsrud.
When my husband and I were married 20 years ago, things didn’t look very bright for our financial future. Between us, we had $55,000 of debt and low-earning career paths. But despite the circumstances, I knew I wanted more financial freedom.
Then seven years ago, we started pursuing a more minimalist lifestyle.
We decluttered and got rid of half our possessions. We also downsized our commitments and obligations, freeing up calendar space.
I realized that pursuing financial freedom and minimalism had a lot of cross-over principles. They both encouraged you to examine your life. What really matters to you? What added to your life, and what was a distraction? And most importantly, both concepts helped you create something unique to your values and goals, even when that ran counter to cultural norms.
I remember our first year of marriage, driving around in my Geo Metro. I had been reading through the Old Testament, you know, as the young kids do. And I came across this idea of sabbaticals. I had known about taking a day of rest each week, but this concept of taking a year of rest every seven years was intriguing. Driving around in my beater car, I posed the idea to my new husband. “What if we took off a year every seven years? It wouldn’t be so complicated. We could just set aside a bit extra, just for that purpose.”
He looked at me perplexed, “Honey, I don’t think people actually do that anymore.” Indignant, I said, “Why not, it sounds like an amazing idea! I think we should at least try.” It was a short conversation, but it stuck with me. What if we saved up a bit of money to take periodic breaks from our work? Sure it was unusual. But imagine the possibilities.
Over the next decade, we took all the little opportunities that life handed us. Unexpected job losses, requesting time off, and the gaps between careers. With a good amount of hard work and a fair amount of luck, we actually became financially independent when I was 32. But that’s another story for another day.
Along the journey, we have taken a dozen sabbaticals or mini-retirements. I define a mini-retirement as anytime you take a month or longer away from the 9-5 to focus on things that matter to you.
My family and I are currently part-way into an 8-month-long road trip. While logging a lot of steps, a lot of drive time, and watching my kids play in the ocean, I’ve been thinking about all the amazing benefits of taking a mini-retirement.
Here are five of the big reasons I’ve taken a dozen mini-retirements and the most common reasons my coaching clients take time away from the 9-5.
Get Caught Up
So many of us feel like we are behind, especially on everything that isn’t urgent but is important.
Between work, family, and commitments, some things sit on the to-do list….indefinitely. All these things act like open tabs on your phone or computer. Each one left open isn’t a big deal in itself, but when there are 100 open tabs, it creates a mental burden that we carry through our days.
When Adam and I decided to take a year off seven years ago, we had a list of 100 things to get caught up on. The years before were busy. We had adopted three kids, bought and renovated three homes, and worked full-time. It was an intense season of our life. We need time to get caught up on decluttering projects, a kitchen renovation in one of our rentals, finishing our master bath, and visiting family.
Maybe you’ve missed holidays and birthdays. Maybe you missed vacations. Maybe there are 20+ books you have bought over the last few years and just haven’t had time to read. Maybe you didn’t make it to your friend’s wedding, and now they have a 3-year-old you still haven’t even met. Maybe you just want to finally clear the pile of mail off the counter and drop off the donation bags in the trunk of your car.
But there simply isn’t enough PTO, vacation time, or weekends to fit it all in. Taking a month or six months off allows you to get caught up on all those things that are important but never seem to make it to the top of the to-do list. You can call your aunts and chat for an hour. You can see your niece’s sports game. You can say yes to your friend’s birthday trip. And slowly but surely, you will close the tabs and feel like you have a whole lot more bandwidth to think clearly.
Do Something New
When life is full (and it’s always full), there is rarely room for something new and big. Those things will take a lot of mental and emotional energy to get going. Plus the time commitment. Taking a break from your 9-5 can give you that time, energy, and mental space to try something new.
When we took a year off seven years ago, we were also ready to take a big adventure as a family. We bought a pop-up camper and set off with our five kids on a 6-week adventure. This served two functions, we were able to visit both sides of our family and do something new with our recently expanded family.
That trip served as the first test run of taking long trips with our kids. After that, we took a 10-week road trip to ten National Parks. Then we upgraded our pop-up camper to a 26-foot hard-sided camper. Last year we did three months traveling over the winter.
People ask if we are nervous about traveling with our kids for eight months in a camper and homeschooling. Kind of. There are always unknowns, and every trip has unique challenges. But we have tested and scaled this trip many times to get here.
About 10 years ago, my husband, Adam, took six months off of work. During that time, we started buying and renovating homes. We had no experience with renovations. We had never even owned a home before. I won’t say it would have been impossible, but we probably wouldn’t have bought two homes the first year if we were both working full-time. His taking that time off made it possible for us to start this whole new element of our lives. Now our rentals make up about ⅓ of our income.
If you give yourself a month or a year, you could take on a whole new adventure, hobby, or project. Things that are just too hard to fit into life after work between dinner and bedtime.
Family and Friends
The year before Adam left his 9-5 was one of the hardest for me as a parent. We were about to adopt the three half-siblings that had been placed with us. And they had so many appointments, with so many people. Every week there were 10+ appointments put on my calendar by the professionals in their life. Plus, the uncertainty of it all, not knowing if they would be placed with family or be adopted by us.
I was tired. And stressed. And generally felt like I was about to drown.
This wasn’t the mom I wanted to give my kids. I wanted them to see me at my best. Rested, joyful, and fun. Instead, I felt like they mostly saw me at my worst. Running on cortisol and caffeine but barely awake.
Every time my friends invited me to do something, I said no. To everyone. I promised that if they kept asking, one day, I could say yes. Just not today. We were in survival mode.
Then I found out I was pregnant. In a two-year span, we would go from one kid at home to five kids. All of them under seven years old.
When we found out we were pregnant, I called a time-out. There was no way I could add an infant to this equation. We were on the financial independence plan but originally planned for Adam to work a few more years; now it was the time for a new plan. The new plan was a year off.
Sometimes we can’t give people our best. Sometime we just can’t give them enough. And if you wait until the typical retirement age, you might miss your chance entirely. Your kids might be grown, your parents in poorer health or the season just passed you by. Enter mini-retirement. Taking some time away from the 9-5 gives you a chance to focus on the people in your life that matter most to you.
Improve Your Health
This year I decided to take a hiatus from my business, which for me meant working about 5 hours a week instead of my normal 15. I had two big goals for the year with my extra time and attention.
First, finish up as many house renovation projects as possible. And I took that permission and went down a deep rabbit hole of landscape design and permaculture. Over the summer, I could have been mistaken for a landscaper.
My other big goal was my health. The pandemic knocked me off course. It was especially hard on my mental health. But it also affected my fitness, nutrition, and stress management. Instead of being thoughtful and intentional in my choices, all things health-related felt disorganized and reactionary. I had made small attempts to get things back on track, with little success. So this was my year to clear the decks and focus on my health.
First up was getting out of my very cloudy area of Montana for the winter. We came up with a plan to try to be snowbirds. Then I found a group of health and fitness friends to share the journey with.
I paid for a health-tracking app. I hired a personal trainer and nutritionist. I read 100+ articles about nutrition and mental health. My psychiatrist recommended I try a low-inflammation lifestyle. So I reduced my high-inflammation foods and activities and added in a bunch of low-inflammation foods and activities.
A funny thing happens when you give yourself time, energy, and resources toward just a few goals. And you get all the support and help you need. You make progress!
Obviously, I think we all should try for our best health while working our jobs. But it’s legit hard. And sometimes, we just don’t have the bandwidth to take on big changes in our lives on top of everything else.
Many of my coaching clients want to focus on improving their health while on their mini-retirement. They want to get 8 hours of sleep. They want to reduce their stress hormones and start meditating or doing breathwork. Spending time outdoors and with people they care about is part of our mental health. Some want a specific fitness routine, and some just want more movement than they had at a desk job. Taking a walk after breakfast or gardening.
For most people, when they have more time and fewer demands on them, it’s easier to cook the food you want to be eating and feel more thoughtful with nutrition.
Mini-retirements can also be essential for helping relieve burnout. It’s so hard to recover from burnout while in the situation that created burnout. It takes time, rest, and space. It takes new healthy routines with lots of “active rest” activities.
I’ve worked with clients who are trying to recover from burnout while still at the job that burned them out. And you can make a little bit of progress with better boundaries, more self-care, and taking other commitments off your plate. But honestly, it might take 2-3 years of being very intentional to make the progress you can make in 3-4 months in a mini-retirement.
Focusing on your health is great to squeeze in where you can. But if you want to make a big change or lots of changes, it’s helpful to have some extra time and mental space to tackle that.
This year gave me the opportunity to start testing ideas of how to optimize my mental health as much as possible. There is a good chance that my Bipolar condition will be degenerative as I age. So I’m trying everything I can to keep my mental health in peak condition to hopefully delay or prevent that decline. It took some trial and error, but I think I found a set of habits that will support my overall health and mental health to the best of my ability and set me on the best trajectory possible to be just as strong and healthy at 50 as I am today.
New Professional Growth
I want to share two coaching clients who are in this boat. One, let’s call Rachel, has been in her professional field for a while. She’s good at her job. Well compensated. And she likes it alright. But there is that curiosity of “Is this what I want to do for the next 20 years?” But every time a job ended, she rushed to make sure the next one was lined up.
Part of her mini-retirement is taking the time to explore what else might be out there. Is there something that also fits her skill set, education, and interest? Is there something better? Maybe it’s a big change, or maybe it’s a small pivot. But this time, she is taking six months to really explore that. Of course, a mini-retirement can serve a few functions. There were some trips with family and friends. There were some decluttering projects. But there was also rest and recovery from a little bit of burnout that had snuffed out some of her creativity. Now it’s time to research and explore what her next professional chapter should look like.
I have another client, who we’ll call Tom. Tom never really felt like the 9-5 corporate world was the best fit for him. He always wondered if maybe he could do something different. Create something on his own. So he created a bit of financial runway to be able to take off 6-12 months, and he’s going to try to scale up his own business. Not only does he want the chance to succeed, but he doesn’t want the regret of never really trying. And always wondering if he could have done something different.
What if there is something else out there for you professionally? It can be tricky to really explore and pursue those things when life and work are already so full. Even having the creativity and mental space to really think about it is tough when you’re a bit burned out. A mini-retirement can give you 3-12 months to rest, explore and start to test and scale something new.
Why Retire Often?
When I talk about “retiring often” people are generally confused by the idea. Why would you retire more than once? Why not just push through for 40 straight years and then take the next 30 off? There are a hundred benefits to retiring often. And honestly, the non-stop career path has some fatal flaws.
But the biggest reason to retire often: it will make your life better. It gives you a fighting chance to improve every area of life that matters to you, spanning across every decade. Your whole life, in its width and its depth, can improve. Plus, it’s just more fun this way.
Jillian Johnsrud helps people custom build a lifestyle that perfectly reflects their values, passion, and purpose. If you are interested in planning out a mini-retirement or just adding more intention into this coming year, she has a free video course that you might find helpful. I recommend everything she creates.
Megan L says
I have said for YEARS that sabbaticals should be normalized. Burnout is so real. I am about to take a much-needed 3-month break between jobs to reset as much as I can. I cannot wait until the end of this month.
Maureen Johnson says
I am inspired by the idea of retiring often. It is a wonderful and scary. It has inspred me to begin planning to scale back in some of my commitments and take time to reorganize. It is a start.
For teachers in Germany, sabbaticals are a government-installed system.
You can file for ‚anlasslose Teilzeit‘ which roughly translated to ‚working part-time for no reason‘ and then you get (for example) just 6/7 of your paycheck for seven years, but the seventh year you‘re not working.
The file is accepted almost always, and since most teachers in Germany are very well paid, many use this opportunity. Especially, since you stay government-employed with all the benefits.
Jillian Johnsrud says
My hope is that eventually more US employers will adopt similar policies!
This is what I have been doing since about the age of 25. I’m now 50.
It’s nice to now give it an official title instead of just time out!
Jillian Johnsrud says
Hi Lizzie! This inspires me. If I may ask – what do you do during your time off? Travel, hang at home, volunteer..?? Just curious for my own personal planning! :) 38 years old here…
Mike Tinnon says
Wow! That’s wonderful!
I retired five years before my law enforcement pension maxed out. After 26 years, and the last ten as police chief, I knew it was time to dive into my creative life as a writer/artist. My wife and I moved to a lower tax state, downsized, and found a healthier, more fulfilling life. Positive change is possible, you just have to plan and take action.
Jillian Johnsrud says
That’s wonderful! I bet it’s a nice change of pace.
Wendy Wilson Burich says
I think the idea of taking a mini-retirement scares most people, but it makes sense to do it! A woman that attended life coach trining with me started a company called “Fanatical Sabbatical” that actually prepares her clients to take a 4-6 week break from their work, and helps them with everything from talking to their bosses to saving up the money to do it. I really enjoyed this article, and I hope more people take the time for themselves to regroup and make the changes that will allow them to thrive.