The concept of the mini-retirement runs counter to many of the supposed principles of the FIRE movement. We are supposed to put our heads down, tighten our belts, and dream of a future far, far away, when we will be free.
This concept presupposes that happiness and freedom are only truly accessible once we reach our ‘number.’ This is problematic.
On the other side, many espouse a mini-retirement, or even a series of mini-retirements, à la Tim Ferriss who, in his seminal book, The 4-Hour Workweek, moved the goalposts, evoking images of pale nerdy twenty-somethings orchestrating the levers of efficient online business from sunny Thai beaches.
Let’s take a step back. Why do you even want to retire, anyway? You should ask yourself this question – it’s important, because there’s a reason, and there’s often a reason behind the reason.
For example, the Mad Fientist retired in order to gain more independence over his time, only to realise he secretly wanted to write an album – FIRE was the only way he could secure the freedom and means to do so.
Or, stated alternately, he realised, through an abundance of time and energy, that making music was what he wanted to do.
It’s key to establish the ‘real’ reason for retirement, because you might find that you’re already able to live your retired life. You don’t need to know exactly what it will look like, but you should have enough of an idea to point the compass. Everyone has a unique reason, and you need to find it, because if you retire to get away from something, rather than towards something, you’ll find yourself lost pretty quickly, and probably back at work.
The shadow life and permission
The FIRE path can be an end in itself. This is both good and bad. It’s good if it helps you to knuckle down and get your finances under control, but it’s bad if it becomes a surrogate for what you actually wanted your life to look like. This is a shadow life, which offers plausible deniability to the ego.
Most of us want to retire to a better ‘lifestyle’ right? Yet we spend years, decades, subjecting ourselves to conditions which we don’t enjoy, working jobs we hate for people we don’t like. So, we compromise our lifestyle for…our lifestyle.
We are waiting for a completion. And this comes with an opportunity cost – time.
The reason that this is so alluring is because it allows us to outsource our happiness to a foreordained date in the future or a number in a bank account. We don’t need to worry about the daily grind because one day, life will be bliss, and our problems will dissolve in the face of financial security.
This is false. We live on shifting sands – the mind always uncovers anxieties, creates new values, objectives, and problems. Fixating on a date when we will supposedly begin to live life on our own terms allows us to avoid doing what we really want to do, because ‘someday’ we will do it.
This is Resistance, a shadow life, something to hide behind. Whatever you want to do in retirement, you should be doing now.
But many feel they don’t have ‘permission’ to do it. Because they aren’t rich enough, free enough, experienced enough, old enough, young enough. Money, like anything else, is often an excuse.
Grant yourself permission.
It’s not sufficient to retire ‘away’ from something. If you dislike your job, it’s rational to want to escape it, but you must be moving ‘towards’ something. This comes back to having a ‘why’. Because those who have not imagined the post-FIRE life will find themselves disappointed. There’s always time to change things, to structure your way of life, to find out what works and what doesn’t, because, after all, you’ll have time.
But many find it doesn’t suit them. They have spent years fixated on the final day of liberation, when all their problems will be solved. This does not happen – can you really forecast what ‘future you’ will want?
No, because you barely know what ‘present you’ wants. That’s why you need to establish your why, and you need to move towards it, and you need to visualise what your retired life will look like.
Many find that once they are FI, they do in fact wish to continue working, albeit on their own terms. But if they had realised this before, they would have saved themselves ten years at a job they hate, in a city they hate, learning to hate themselves.
Time is the only valuable commodity. With FIRE we can harness it, even before we are ‘free.’
Enter the mini-retirement.
The mini-retirement: a trial
How do we do it? Everyone’s mini-retirement will differ. Some will wish to pelt tomatoes at others in eastern Spain, others will journey across Siberia, flooded to the gills with vodka, and others will…stay at home.
A mini-retirement doesn’t have to be about travel. Travel can help, maximising your eureka heuristic and opening doors to new experiences. But what we are looking for is the magical portal, the window into complete agency over time.
So, if your desk job is what’s preventing you from becoming a professional musician, then I encourage you to live that life, playing music, and doing whatever else musicians do. You might find that ultimate choice is not as glamorous as it seems, and that freedom has a cost. This is valuable information.
The decision will be yours, and you’ll learn from it – I know I did. I learned that I didn’t want a life that was entirely devoted to whatever the winds of fortune threw at me. I found out I liked structure, long-term projects, and I discovered I would always want to work a little bit, on my own terms. This drastically shortened my time to ‘retirement’.
There are different ways to structure the so-called mini-retirement. Many who have taken these roads have found that their mini-retirement became a permanent retirement, and many who took a sabbatical looked forward to returning to the office.
There are many ways to skin a cat. Some of these options might go beyond what you define as a ‘mini-retirement’ but what I really mean by that term is a new way of looking at your life.
The Tim Ferriss: This is the 4-hour workweek extraordinaire. Build something, automate it, move to the beach. Enter a state of permanent recurring semi-mini-retirements where a series of options are available to you, due to a fundamental financial structure which supports a lot, if not all, of your expenses, necessitating minimal input.
The Dabbler: This was me. I forecasted the retired life, which I knew would involve travel, possibly moving with the seasons, and turned up in Europe. I settled in Italy for a while, learned Italian, drank wine, ate pasta, and read books about the Medicis. It was brilliant, but I learned a host of lessons, which I’ve spoken about elsewhere. (PS, I will be repeating this soon.)
The Ramp: Or, as Paul Millerd calls it: REFO (Retire Early, Figure it Out). I actually like this a lot. Save 30% of your FI number and then drop all tools – go for glory. This approach endorses the fact that you’re smart, engaged, willing to ‘work’ on things you enjoy working on, on your terms, and the money will follow. I think there’s a lot to be said for this, as it encourages skin in the game, a key factor for learning.
Is it about journey or destination? I’ll take destination every time.
The trouble is that many of us don’t realise we’ve already arrived, or that our destination is closer than we think, because we’re addicted to the struggle, to the hustle and grind.
Ask yourself: what would this look life if it were easy? Chances are, it already is.
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