When we sold our house and parted ways with my 9-5, I struggled with what to call this crazy adventure. Was it a sabbatical, a mini-retirement, a break, a cleanse, an experiment, or maybe something completely different?
I settled on “mini-retirement”, but given how much work I’ve been doing, that might be a bit of a misnomer :)
I didn’t know what to call it, but I knew what I
I needed a change.
I’d worked for the same department in the same company for 13 years. I loved the people I worked with. I loved the impact of the products we made. But I had gotten too comfortable.
I didn’t feel I was growing - in my career or as an individual.
Sure, I could have stayed in that job for another 10 years, paid off our mortgage and retired early. But 10 years is a lot of time to spend feeling stagnant.
So, this thing we decided to call a “mini-retirement” was really a call for growth.
It was a leap - putting myself way outside my comfort zone - for the sake of becoming a better me.
Now that we’re nine months in, I can say that the leap has been more effective than I could have imagined.
You’d think a year of “not working” would be easy and fun, but personal growth often isn’t. Growth stretches you and makes you uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.
Here are the three biggest areas this mini-retirement has stretched me beyond discomfort and how I think I’m better for it.
Stretch #1 - Stay-At-Home Dad
Whenever people used to ask what Jaime did for a living, I’d tell them that she was a stay-at-home mom, but that her job was way harder than mine.
I wasn’t joking when I said this, but I can now say that I had no idea how true it was. Now that I’ve finally walked a mile (or ten) in her shoes, I have a much better appreciation for what it’s like to be a stay-at-home parent.
I’ve experienced awesome moments - like seeing the grins on their faces when they realize I brought their sleds with when I came to pick them up after school.
And I’ve experienced challenges - like the forty-five-minute walk (that should only take fifteen) home after school when one (or more) of our girls decides that using her legs just isn’t on the agenda that day.
Before this experience, my daughters used to have me completely wrapped around their fingers. After all, when you have limited time with your kids, you want to do everything you can to please them.
You want the few precious moments you have together to be good ones.
But saying yes to every request isn’t good for our kids and it’s not good for us as parents. Our kids need our love, but they also need rules - even if they aren’t the rules they would pick themselves.
In the last nine months, I’ve grown as a parent - getting better about setting limits and boundaries with our kids. It isn’t always easy - I’ve been called “the worst dad ever” on more than one occasion - but I know I’m doing a better job as a parent.
Stretch #2 - Entrepreneur
When I was getting interviewed for my first job out of college, I was asked that oh-so-common question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I boldly (or maybe foolishly?) answered “running my own business”. Somehow I still got the job :)
Five years passed and I was still there. Five years turned into seven, then ten, and then thirteen.
I’d been dreaming of being an entrepreneur since I was in high school, but I knew if I didn’t take the leap soon, I might never get there.
So, when we kicked off the mini-retirement, I looked at it as the opportunity to finally give entrepreneurship a chance.
I thought I had a fairly healthy view of what running your own business was like. After all, my dad had been running his own business since I was a baby. My in-laws ran their own business. And I was constantly reading small business and entrepreneurship blogs.
I knew what I wanted to do and how I expected to make money - with my blog and app, of course. Easy peasy, right?
Not so fast.
When you’re running the show (especially as a solo-entrepreneur), you’re responsible for everything …including the things you aren’t good at …and the things you don’t like.
I love creating - calculators, apps, articles, systems. But everything after that point is like pulling teeth.
One of biggest hurdles for me has been asking people for money.
It’s tough to have a successful business when you don’t feel comfortable putting a price on things and encouraging people to pay for them.
And when you’ve been dreaming of something for this long, realizing that one of the biggest things standing in your way is you can be a hard pill to swallow.
Without going through this experience, I would likely have sat in my cubicle for the rest of my career telling myself that entrepreneurship was easier than it really is and that I could do it if I just had “the right idea” and the finances to give it a go.
Instead, I got answers for myself by giving it a real shot. Entrepreneurship is still a part of my future, but I’ve got a much healthier respect for what it really is and a better sense of how to make it work.
I’ve learned the value of working with a partner who is good at the things I’m not and I’m steadily improving my ability to put a price tag and value on what I do.
Stretch #3 - Identity
Just six short weeks after kicking off our so-called mini-retirement, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
I kicked off this mini-retirement with confidence in our finances - knowing I could go an extra year beyond our planned timeline without making a penny. And yet, I was still freaking out about money.
It wasn’t about what we had, it was about what was (or in this case, wasn’t) coming in.
For over 5 years, I was the sole income-earner for our family. Over time, that role became inseparably intertwined with my identity. As a husband and father, I had come to define myself first and foremost as a financial provider.
So, the disappearance of my paycheck also meant the disappearance of a big piece of my identity.
It’s humbling to admit all of this. I know that I’m more than just a paycheck to my family - and Jaime and the girls make sure I know this every day. The identity crisis was something I created all by myself.
For years, I’ve used income as a metric for my self-worth, substituting money for my lack of self-confidence.
But getting into this mini-retirement has forced me to confront my old sources of self-worth and find much better places to seek out validation.
I’m working on finding my worth in love.
God’s love for me, my love for my wife, and my love for my children.
These are three things that are unconditional - that will always be present and that I can vest my worth in.
Isn’t that a lot stronger than placing it in a bi-weekly electronic transfer to my bank account?
Be Thankful For Discomfort
Everything in the last nine months has been pushing me to dig deeper into who I am and what I believe. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but it’s more than worth it.
I know with certainty that I’m getting stronger and better every day. I’m growing in ways I wouldn’t have experienced if I had stayed in my 9-5 cubicle life.
And whatever the future holds (even if that’s a return to 9-5 cubicle life), the lessons I learn now are ones I’ll carry with me.
So, let me leave you with one last thought that I picked up from one of the pastors at our church.
Whenever you’re facing discomfort (whether self-imposed or otherwise), take a moment to thank God for the opportunity for growth.
Challenges and discomfort are our pathways to growth. If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.
The biggest growth I’ve experienced in my life has come from the times I’m most uncomfortable.
Welcome discomfort with open arms. Be grateful for its presence. Embrace it and use it to make yourself a better person.
Are you comfortable? Too comfortable? What leap could you take that would help you grow?