Six years ago, I sat down in the lobby bar of my law firm to have a drink with one of the partners. Taking a deep breath, I finally made the announcement I'd been considering for more than a year.
"I'm leaving the firm. I'm not sure what I'll do next, but I'm planning to spend six months or a year traveling the world and having an adventure," I said, and braced myself for his disappointment.
"Good for you," he answered. "I'm surprised a lot more lawyers your age don't try that."
Even though I didn't know the term at the time, it was the first step toward my mini-retirement.
Timothy Ferris first popularized the term "mini retirement" in his book The Four Hour Work Week. In it, he suggested that people periodically take long breaks from their career rather than focus on putting their feet up at 65. The idea has grown in popularity, particularly among millennials who change jobs and careers at a rate their parents simply did not. With more points of transition, young adults have more opportunities to take time off in between jobs.
And that can be excellent news, because a mini-retirement isn't just about taking an extra-long vacation. It's a chance to have your adventure.
Your adventure isn't a package tour, nor is it simply a good time. No one else can put it together. Your adventure is that something you've always wanted to do.
For me, as with many people, my adventure is travel. I grew up on Treasure Island and Robin Hood and spent my entire life dreaming of throwing a bag over my shoulder and walking off the map, never knowing where to next. For someone else, that adventure might be working at a farm, putting their hands in the soil and tend something just to watch it grow. I've met people whose adventures were finally writing their novel, hiking the Appalachian Trail, working in AmeriCorps, rebuilding a local American Legion post and so much more.
It can also be, contrary to all expectations, a very strong professional move.
One of the biggest career problems that people struggle with is the sense of not knowing what they want, but knowing for sure what they don't. It's why so many workers end up feeling like they've lost control of their professional lives, because even though they may not be happy in their current job, they're not certain enough to pursue the next one.
A mini-retirement gives you the opportunity to pursue that perspective. By stepping away from your desk entirely, not just for a vacation with e-mails piling up at the end but a genuine break from the past, you can start to think about what really matters from 9 to 5.
"We're not wired to disconnect in one week," said Grant Sabatier, a consultant and the founder of Millennial Money. "If you're feeling stuck in your life a mini retirement can be a great catalyst to give you more emotional space to think through things… It's really not until that 3-month period that you start to get the clarity that you're seeking. One month feels like a long vacation, but you're not really able to disconnect from your job and you don't have enough space to get that transformation you're looking for."
Walking away for months at a time does involve risks. While you can certainly ask your boss for a sabbatical, few will hold a position open for that long. Still, that might not be a bad thing.
"Ask yourself," Sabatier said, "do I really want to go back?"
"If you're feeling stuck in any way in your life, there's only so much soul searching you can do in a Thursday night restorative yoga class or in a bike ride on the weekends or on a vacation."
Professional clarity will help you on both the professional and the personal level. Many studies have shown that workers are better at their jobs, and often even earn more, by finding better fits. What's more, it's a chance to make yourself more interesting as a human being.
That isn't just good first-date material. It can make a big difference when it comes to landing your next position.
"It's a misconception that taking a few months or a year off from your career is an exclusively negative thing," said Brendan Lee, author of Bren On The Road. "I think it's actually the opposite. Someone who's been in the same job for 5-10 years is probably going to come across as someone who is stagnant and lacking versatility in today's world."
"Remember a mini retirement is not a holiday where you just lie in a hammock all day. The goal of the experience is to upskill yourself and expand your knowledge base - even if it's painting or sailing or yoga that you're doing. All experiences that teach you new things are valuable, regardless of how closely related to your career they are."
That's the crux of it.
A mini-retirement is not about asking if Sandals will do a lease. Spending six months in a rum-soaked haze of swim up bars will not help you grow as a person, and no future employer will be impressed by that career path.
However, almost everyone is impressed by the person who had the guts to go out and have their adventure because, and this is the dirty little secret: Everyone wishes they could too. Whoever is on the other side of the desk has a dream, that thing they always wanted to try but told themselves it could never happen. Words like "impractical" and "impossible" got in the way. You will have accomplished something real, something that even an interviewer wishes they could do.
A mini-retirement is the chance to step away from work for a period of time and achieve the goals that might not be possible with the responsibilities of a full-time career. It isn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination; life without work means life without an income. Personally, I saved for 18 months before feeling like I had the money to pursue mine. Taking a break from work does not mean taking a break from life, so save hard and make sure the numbers work before sending in your two week notice. Consult a financial planner and be realistic about what this will take.
Then get started putting money into next year's mini-retirement fund. It's worth it.
Eric Reed has been lucky enough to live one adventure and is currently hoping to spend his next one in the Peace Corps.