I’ve recently realized that I should have taken significant time away from work prior to retiring instead of slogging straight through my career since graduating from university, 1999 to 2015, with hardly a letup.
Why have I come to this conclusion? What are the benefits to taking a gap year, or half-year, along the journey to financial independence? What is it about experiencing life away from the office that’s convinced me that I waited too long to take a significant reprieve — and why didn’t I do it? What does it do to the financial picture? And finally, what about the logistical challenges — how might you pull it off, if you’re so inclined?
If you’re interested in taking a non-working sabbatical within the context of FI/RE, this post is for you.
Taking The Year Off : Pros
Let’s say you’ve been working for ten years, the past five of which you’ve been aggressively saving in order to pursue your retire early plans. Your savings rate is an awesome 66.6%, putting your Time to FI at ten total years according to NetWorthify. (This assumes a 5% dividend-and-inflation adjusted return on your investment and a 4% withdrawal rate.)
Since you’ve already been saving for five, you estimate you have five remaining years to work before you’re completely financially independent and can pull the plug on formal employment forever.
Your income-producing career is running full steam.
What reasons could possibly be good enough to justify taking this particular time to take an extended period away from work? How can you justify prolonging the realization of your dream to achieve financial independence and travel to Quitz-ville?
Get ready for a wall of text containing thirteen.
- Most people who seek early retirement want desperately to know what life without work is like. But in the end, there’s really only one way to find out how you will personally experience it, and that’s by removing your job for a good long while. Think of it as an early-retirement trial-run.
- If your drive to quit work is rooted in a desire to pursue hobbies or chase an entrepreneurial dream full time, you will soon recognize whether or not they represent enough to engage and sustain you. Are you really as passionate about these interests as you thought? Can you play video games for sixty hours a week and derive enough fulfillment from that activity to power your entire life? If you want to write, are you actually sitting down to crank your novel out? Were you able to train a litter of kittens to tap dance onstage for your upcoming Broadway smash, Cats 2, the way you thought you would?
- Many people become concerned about potential changes in partner dynamics as a result of having so much more time available to spend with one another. This is your chance to check it out firsthand.
- It’ll be a long period to draw off of the stash you’ve built up, without the guarantee of any steady income. This will give you an idea of how you’ll feel about doing the same later on in life. Will you nervous about the money? Get a clue in advance. It’ll also help you understand whether or not your real spending levels are in line with your projections.
- Your mind will be clear to think about your life without the constant obligations and distractions that come along with work. You will begin to see the world differently once your ego has naturally decoupled from your job-identity. After several months away, you will be fully detoxified, meaning: The experience of work will seem almost dream-like: things that currently stress you out at your job (missed project deadline, whatever) will fade to the point where you no longer understand why they felt so important in the first place. And it’s practically impossible to get to this frame of mind while you are still working. Even four straight weeks of vacation’t won’t do it. You’re going to need a minimum of two months, and six or twelve are much, much better.
- You may have personal goals you have that can only be achieved at this particular point in your life that cannot wait for your final ‘early retirement’ date. Examples may include taking a long vacation with an older family member who is losing mobility, or spending most of a summer camping with your children before they hit their teen years and would never again agree to such a thing unless you heavily bribe them or kidnap Robin Thicke to come along for the ride.
- It can be a time to establish healthier personal habits that you can carry back into your working life. For example, if early retirement forums or CNN Money articles are to be believed, many people exercise more and lose weight once they’re no longer working. It makes sense: folks finally have time and energy to be active when they’re no longer obligated to sit and stare at pixels all day. You can work to maintain these habits even after returning to the office.
- You will finally be able to separate the part of you that is YOU from the part of you that is WORK. If you’re battling mild depression and five months into your leave you feel terrific, it’s likely that work was a major contributing factor to your illness. But if you still feel lousy, you can’t keep blaming the job — it’ll be time to consider other possibilities as the root cause.
- If you are one of those people who love work, your preferences will be validated after a while — you’ll miss it like crazy and will look forward to a return to doing whatever it is that you do. And you’ll be more energetic and inspired than ever.
- You will become re-acquainted with your inside voice that tells you what you want to do. Most people find this inspiring and confidence-boosting. If you are one of those people who view retirement as mostly an Escape from Work, it may be that listening to this internal voice transforms you into someone who wants to retire TO something. Having such a goal will energize you through your last several years of full time employment.
- Keep in mind the five years “until” you are done cited in the example above may not actually be five. It may turn into seven or eight due to factors out of your control: poor returns in the market, lower-than-expected raises or cutbacks in expected bonuses, unforeseen medical or other personal expenses, lifestyle creep. Additionally, when many people hit their initial retirement number, they immediately decide to voluntarily enroll in the One More Year program. (I did two of them myself.) Can you wait that many years? What impact will staying the course without taking a break have on you?
- If you’ve been seriously saving for 5 years already, you are probably firmly in the ‘delayed gratification’ mindset. You figure: I don’t need the time away from work. I’m tough, I’m stoic, everything is fine. And while that’s true, it’s good to occasionally have practice in the art of Giving Yourself What You Want. Treat yourself to a heaping pile of time.
- It’s a fairly normal thing to do. Really. About 4% of people take a sabbatical at some point during their lives. Very successful people advocate for it, too. Fashion designer Stefan Sagmeister, for example, believes in taking one out of seven years of life away from the grind, to help refresh and rejuvenate his career. Serial company CEO Tom Kalinske relaxed for six months after departing Mattel and joining SEGA just prior to the 16-bit console wars. Conan O’Brien sort of (involuntarily) took a year off between doing his late-night show on NBC and TBS. And so on. Bonus reading: a few quotes from people who took a mid-career break, if you’re interested.
Taking The Year Off : Cons
Ahhh, the negatives: There are some.
- Your employer may not hold your position for you. This means you may find yourself hunting for a new job at the end of it.
- If there happens to be a catastrophic event — a tremendous market crash and obscenely high unemployment — you may find yourself out of work even longer. Worse, this time it’ll be against your will, making it loads less fun.
- Your resume will have a hole in it, potentially making it somewhat more difficult to re-join the workforce in your field.
- If you are taking a sabbatical instead of simply quitting with the plan to get a new job at the end of your break, you will undoubtedly have to work with management and HR to get an agreement in place. This can take time and energy. In addition, it might actually be a stressful experience depending on your employer, their policies, and the specific personalities in play.
- Your Time-To-FI will increase. I’ll unpack that in the next section, since it’s the point that many people will be most concerned with.
Financial Implications of the Gap Year
So what does taking a full year off really do to the finances? Let’s continue the example above. Remember, you have a 10 year plan to FI based on a savings rate of 66% and expected returns of 5% — and you’re 5 years into it.
Let’s nail down some concrete numbers to help with the exercise. Again, for simplicity’s sake, we’re assuming 5% inflation-adjusted (linear) growth of investments and a 4% withdrawal rate target, which is generally considered to be safe.
Annually, you earn 100K, spend 33.3K, and save 66.6K. (Note: We’re ignoring taxes and sheltered accounts.)
If you were to continue this plan straight through 10 years, you’d end up with $835,000 which should give you 33.3K to spend annually (835,000 * .04 = 33.3K). This would take you just under 10 years — 9.8 to be exact.
But remember, we’re talking about taking a gap year, starting in Year 6.
At the end of Year 5, your net worth is 377K. You take the year off.
During Year 6, you spend the same amount as you did while working — 33.4K. You also earn 5% from your current asset sheet — about 18.6K.
At the end of year 6, your net worth is now 362K. You go back to work, earn the same salary, and continue to save two thirds of what you make.
When will you be able to retire? What effect did these shenanigans really have on your grander plans? Let’s plug the data into excel to generate an updated chart.
At the end of year 11, you’ll have 840K — just over the 835 required to fund a 100% complete and utter retirement from working forever, if you so choose.
Fact: Your updated plan will take you a full 11 years to get to FI instead of (instead of 9.8), but keep in mind you have one of those years entirely off.
Taking a year off in the middle of a 10-year FI plan doesn’t make you work much longer — you’ll have to put in about three extra months’ worth of duty to make up for the cost of getting a good blast of freedom a bit earlier than your original plan.
Mess around with the calculators at networthify.com to see what effect taking a year off might have on you.
So let’s say you are seriously interested in taking off for a good long while. How do you do it?
You have two top-level choices. Option 1 is to simply quit, with the understanding that you will look for alternate employment once your gap year is over.
Option 2 is to negotiate a leave.
Here are the basics:
- If you know of anyone else in the company that has taken a sabbatical, strike up a conversation with them. Learn the details of their approach and emulate it. This will allow you to follow a process that worked for at least one other person in the past.
- Always talk to your manager before Human Resources (HR). Make sure s/he is aware you are seeking significant time away. If s/he doesn’t have the answers you need, you can then ask for approval to involve other resources. Taking this approach will safeguard against surprising or embarrassing your manager. (They hate that!)
- Offer to train another company resource on the most critical aspects of your job so they can fill in while you are out. This may involve producing documentation or providing official sessions for learning.
- Expect the leave to be unpaid unless there is current company policy that designates a specific sabbatical benefit to which you are entitled.
- Most companies do not offer sabbaticals longer than a year. If you are asking for the full 12 months, be prepared to hear them counter with 6 — And know in advance whether or not you will accept this.
- Much of your chances of success depend on a) your value to the company and b) the overall culture. Your request could turn sour if they aren’t open to this sort of thing or do not believe you are an important resource.
- Be sure to have your FU money in hand. There is always an off-chance that asking for significant time off will irritate your employer (read: make them think you are checked out or possess a bad attitude). You never know where that might go. Based on their overall company practices, my guess is that asking for a sabbatical at Amazon, for example, would get your ass fired. Like, immediately.
- Be prepared for them to say no. Gauge your response in advance. Will you leave the company if your request is not granted? Or will you graciously return to your cube and continue working without abatement until you reach your FI crossover point?
- Have a good reason for the sabbatical. Don’t: Tell your employer that it’s your intent to lay on a hammock for six straight months. Do: State your requirement (e.g. I really need time away to accommodate my wife, she needs to visit family in France for an extended period and I want to support her. Or: I want to take an intensive 6-month course in becoming a pro-level scrivener. Etc.) and ask if your company can “work” with you to allow you to meet your personal needs.
- Make an effort to be positive during the discussions by talking about your personal connections and commitment to your job and your employer. Express hope that you’ll be able to reach an agreement that makes everyone happy and allows you to return to making strong contributions in the future.
Congratulations. If you’ve made it this far without quitting the post, you either have a naturally fine attention span or you have taken your ADHD medication. As a reward for your efforts, you will now be subjected to an incoherent brain dump. (You’re welcome.)
I’m pretty close to that 15 year example scenario I’d outlined above. Worked close to 16 years in my industry, the first three-plus of them a spender and the final 12-ish a hard-core saver.
Started work in 1999. By 2007, I had solid FU money.
At the end of 2010, I left a tough employer — a stressful position as an engineering support rep at a MegaCorp. By this time, my FU money was even solid-er.
In hindsight, this would have been the perfect time to take a gap year. I was going to leave that job no matter what. And when you absolutely need to leave a job, you don’t have to work through the song-and-dance required to negotiate a sabbatical. It simplifies everything: You quit, you don’t go back to work, and suddenly you have loads of time to decompress, to explore, whatever! When you want a job again, you start to look for one. It’s easy like Sunday morning.
And I wanted to. Truth is, the thought more than just crossed my mind. I knew I was burnt, crispy-style, like black bacon. I knew that taking time off would help me to more accurately picture my future life without any work whatsoever. I knew most of the pros listed in the opening sections of the post — that I’d detox from work, that things would look different after an extended period away, that I could afford it, and so on.
But I didn’t seriously explore it anyway. Nope! Instead I just launched myself back into the working world, and wound up taking a rotten position in a startup that probably took 12 parsecs off of my life.
Here are the five major reasons that I was able to pin down:
#5 Fear of Becoming Unemployable
I worried a lot about becoming obsolete if I took any time off from my career. It was a ridiculous concern, given how in-demand folks with my skill-set are — the software industry is hot.
But I couldn’t shake it. I thought no one will want to hire me with a full year off in my resume. (Wrong, for sure.) And I also thought: I will fall behind in the industry — I’ll miss out on new technologies, get behind the tech curve, become unemployable. (More bone-headed wrongness, of course. Smart people will actually turn the year off into an asset.)
#4 Fear of De-Railing FIRE Plans
Back then, I didn’t do the math on taking a year off the way I did in this post. I probably should have. Because instead I envisioned myself losing a massive amount of ground in my quest to become financially independent. As it turns out, I would have lost very little. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it. Probably willful blindness.
#3 Trouble envisioning my future life
I didn’t feel like I’d prepared enough for a lot of time off. Just as stupidly, I felt as though preparation was necessary. It wasn’t. I wish I had a good friend to push me off the fucking job-plane-train-and-automobile back then. I would have been absolutely fine.
Over the years of working, I’d become tougher, and took ridiculous cave-personish pride in my ability to put up with challenging conditions. I have to admit, when I thought about finally giving myself what I wanted (i.e. to take some serious time off), there was a very loud inside voice that told me I was a weakling, that a quote real adult endquote would just keep on trucking until completing the job of reaching FI.
#1 Fear of Not Wanting to Return to Work, Ever
Somewhat paradoxically, given my fears of not being able to find employment after the break, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to force myself to go back.
In actuality, that last insecurity was my only legitimate concern. I mean, I saw myself taking the full year off and, at the end of twelve months of freedom, being unable to re-fasten the dog-collar, so to speak.
Turns out, this particular fear is precisely the reason I should have left. I’ll explain.
If you read this blog at all, you’re probably aware that I had a surprisingly difficult time actually quitting when the time came. Even after settling the finances and coming up with a comprehensive plan to leave my employer, I waffled. My mind was awash with fears and anxieties. I even felt, occasionally, guilty about leaving — there was a bit of Stockholm Syndrome mixed in with the madness.
I’ve come to believe that the reason I had such a hard time leaving was because I didn’t take a long break between starting full time employment and terminating it. Somehow I’d become partially institutionalized myself, despite making a continual effort to keep my eyes as wide-open as possible during the cubicle-laden journey to early retirement. I came to rely on my employer almost as much as they relied on me.
Because a decade and a half is a hell of a long time to be doing the same thing without a letup. During that interval, I’d become used to not thinking for myself. What am I going to be doing today? Don’t have to consider THAT question too carefully — I know I have to drive to the office, and I know after that I’ll be checking my email, and after that I’ll just be prioritizing Stuff That Must Be Done For The Company. By the end of the day, I’d be so tired that I deserved to do nothing, to watch reruns of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad, for example, instead of actively thinking about much of anything at all.
Taking a full year off mid-way through would have likely broken that spell and allowed me to avoid much of the tumultuous waffling that came at the end.
My zombie-like sleepwalking through the workplace routine of days and weeks and months would have been shattered.
My sense of individuality and autonomy? Restored.
And I would have felt much, much more confident about leaving my industry for good when the time eventually came.
Bottom Line AKA TL;DR
Not only is it completely possible to take a break from the grind, it’ll barely impact your FIRE plans.
For your consideration.
**Before I end this post, I want to point out that Doug Nordman over at The Military Guide to Early Retirement had similar thoughts when reviewing his own journey. Specifically, he lamented not slowing his career down earlier and taking alternate opportunities, blaming the so-called Fog of Work for his inability to change course and chart a better path to the end. Instead, he “bulldozed all the way through to 20 instead of transferring to the Reserves at about the 12-year point.”
So I submit that it’s our tendency as people to simply run full speed to the end of the race (regardless of how tired or injured we are), instead of slowing down and re-assessing as we go.
** Some bonus links if you’re seriously interested in taking a leave from your employer.
LifeHacker’s Career Break Planning Guide
CareerShifter’s Advice on Taking a Sabbatical
A Few Real-Life Stories (although not written from the context of FIRE). And a terrific, detailed blog post from someone who took a full year off with his family.
Mainstream Sabbatical Advice from Forbes.
I probably should have (and certainly could have) taken a year or two off. A lot of those same top five fears kept me from doing so. Could I return to a similarly high paying job? Would I want to ever come back to work? How disappointing would it be to know I’m in my last month of a 2 year work break and I have another few years or decade to grind it out?
My wife, on the other hand, managed to snag a paid sabbatical of 5 weeks to 3 months these last two years. She’s still working, and these extended breaks for travel and relaxation certainly help maintain the mental and emotional stamina to keep doing a good job at work (though she might quit any moment…).
Definitely recommend a career break or sabbatical, even unpaid, if you can swing it in your professional and financial life.
It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one who feels he should have taken a leave but didn’t. But it’s even nicer to hear that your wife will be joining you pretty soon, if I’m reading your comment correctly. Just terrific, RoG, Very glad for you and your family.
Doom, this post is the latest evidence that you have found your true calling as the FIRE community’s preeminent psychological analyst (or analrapist, if you’re an Arrested Development fan).
I was just about to make a similar comment about this (most recent) excellent and in-depth post!
Perhaps it’s time for you to hang out your shingle as a FIRE counselor who can shepherd people out of their cubes and into the bright green world 🙂
Thanks for the comments, gents – It’s not really my intent to pressure people to make the leap so much as help people weigh their options and make the best possible individual decisions.
Thanks for the shout-out!
That “fog of work” post was written with the help of several other military servicemembers & veterans who feel exactly the way we’ve all noted by now.
The good news is that we’re giving everyone the data they need to make their own confident choices.
>>The good news is that we’re giving everyone the data they need to make their own confident choices.
Well put. Thanks for the comment, Nords – always nice to see you drop by.
This: “Keep in mind the five years ‘until’ you are done cited in the example above may not actually be five. It may turn into seven or eight…”
In spite of all the studies and analysis, it seems that very few people in this community have the nerve to walk away the day they hit their targets. There is a nervewracking finality to “retirement.”
For some, maybe the notion of a “gap” would be easier to accept than “retirement.” This could be a powerful antidote to One More Year syndrome. You don’t have to commit to never, ever working again, but why not reap some of the lifestyle rewards now? Based on the collective experience of the early retirement community, you probably won’t ever look back.
Nice comment, thanks. I agree with all of your points. It’s rare to see someone walk after hitting their 4% WR target- I can’t think of anyone who has done it without having side-hustles for extra income and security. Most people start to question all sorts of things toward the end — the correctness of their FIRE number, the ability of the economy to keep growing, potential changes in life goals and plans that might require additional funding — and these questions feed heavily into OMY. As you noted, there’s a sense that once you pull the ripcord, there is no going back.
A gap year though, well — that’s just a friendly little breather from the grind. Nothing to fear. You’ll be headed back in half a year or a year, armed with more data.
I’ve never really given any consideration to a sabbatical. In my mind it’ll just slow down my path to FI! But hey… the math works and it really shouldn’t derail my plans. I’m still real early to the game, but maybe in a few years I’ll really crunch the numbers and decide if it’s something I want to entertain.
>> I’m still real early to the game,
The way the math works, the impact of taking a break is reduced the longer you wait because your asset levels will be higher. It’s something that makes more sense to consider around the 50% mark of your journey, if at all.
Keep in mind that if you time your break to run from mid-calendar year to mid-calendar year, you can usually get some significant tax advantages compared to just taking an entire calendar year off. My husband and I got to use the sweet Saver’s Credit this way during our year off to travel the world.
True. If your break ran May to October, for example, you’d likely be able to do two things: 1) Max your tax-sheltered accounts (401(k), 403(b)) and 2) avoid a great deal of earnings at the higher income bracket levels. And both of these should significantly reduce the opportunity cost of earning while you’re away.
I think Mrs. SSC may be forced into a sabbatical due to layoffs, and amazingly, overall it would only push back our FIRE date by ~9 months, all things staying equal. I also realized that when we do hit that number, it won’t be my immediate quit date. My new company ahs staggered bonuses, so it would be after bonuses and the like are done getting paid out that year. Provided it’s not 10 months away. I’d do 6 months, but no more! Hahahaha
It’s still all about the nerve wracking finality of not getting a paycheck again that would make me not want to “leave money on the table” if it was less than 6 months to hold out for it.
You definitely could be the FIRE counselor that lets everyone know, “Hey, it’s pretty darn nice on the other side. Come on, what are you waiting for?”
>>It’s still all about the nerve wracking finality of not getting a paycheck again that would make me not want to “leave money on the table” if it was less than 6 months to hold out for it.
Yep, this is a reasonable decision, IMO.
>>Hey, it’s pretty darn nice on the other side.
Heh. Yes. It. Is.
Work: I do not miss it.
I’ve never done a sabbatical, but I have done reduced hours for several years now. I’ve done both 90% and 80% time and I have to say that the reduced hours made a minimal impact on our savings rate but hugely helped us get some extra time to consider things. The biggest issue I always found with work is it took up way too much of my week, so be giving up a bit of highly taxed income (check your reduction of take home pay, it ends up being way less than 10%) I end up with a much more workable life in the interim as I keep working to FIRE.
In both cases I leveraged an external board level job as an excuse to have more time off and it worked with my employer. It isn’t easy to get approved but it is possible. This provides a small taste of FIRE now which I find makes the last few years a hell of a lot more tolerable rather than pushing hard to get to the finish line.
I’m even entertaining the idea of dropping further (~50%) to see if I could do a semi-FIRE option sooner and see how that turns out. I think we all tend to consider FIRE a binary thing when in fact it isn’t, there is a lot of grey between full time work or full time not working.
It’s encouraging to hear from readers who were able to negotiate significant schedule changes. Your reduced work lifestyle sounds like a great way to power through the last several years with real work-life balance and very little impact on earnings and dates, overall. Nice job negotiating the changes with your employer.
>>I think we all tend to consider FIRE a binary thing when in fact it isn’t, there is a lot of grey between full time work or full time not working.
I had an involuntary leave to help care for a terminally ill parent. It was before I had FU money but also before I had a career beyond entry level positions, my opportunity cost was low. I think that is something that people in the “should I take a year off?” camp struggle with. If they are earning 6 figures, it seems harder to walk away from than 33k. You just did the math and proved that is fallacy.
Glad you made it across the finish line, even if hindsight says you took a non-optimal path!
Yep, the math doesn’t lie: Taking an extended break just doesn’t matter that much, regardless of your earnings, because it’s a function based on savings rate, not absolute income.
I’m in awe of your support of your parents. Not an easy thing to do – leave a job to help out your loved ones. Some people would not make that decision. You’ve got your priorities straight, though, very awesome.
Who the hell is Robin Thicke? (/googles for it) Oh, hmmm, yeah, I still don’t know who that is
Secret: I googled “teen idol” to find a name to slot in that sentence. Was going to type Beiber but realized he’s past his shelf-life at this point. Apparently Thicke sings too.
Muchas gracias. ?Como puedo iniciar sesion?
Unfortunately, I had never considered a sabbatical in the past, and though I would love to take one, my wife and I are two years away from our retirement goal, and the reward in this case just isn’t worth the time off. The fact is the closer that I get to retirement, the closer that I want to retire.
Like you’re saying, the more appropriate time for me to have taken a sabbatical was several years ago in the middle of my professional working life. I can only guess what kind of difference that would have made in my day-to-day working psyche that I’m dealing with now. 🙂
Congratulations on being so close to your own goals. 2 years simply isn’t that far out.
Thanks for the comment.
Doom, you are truly evil in the subtle ways. Using “parsecs” instead of the much more common “lightyears”, yet still in the teeth-grinding “that’s a measure of distance, not a measure of time” manner? That’s cold, man! But you sure know your readers…
but, but… 12 parsecs is the duration it took Han to make his incredible Kessel run in the Falcon! Of course it’s a measure of time! ;jk
I’m hoping to retire within the next 5 years. I’ve been with the same company for 12 years. During this time, I’ve been able to take 2 months off twice: in 2008 and this year. I did it in addition to regular paid time-off (5 weeks/year). How? Because #1 I’m a valuable employee. When I’m at work, I work hard. I’m not irreplaceable, nobody is. But I would be hard and expensive to replace. #2 I asked at the right time. I asked when business was slow and when it would cause little disturbance to my team. #3 I was able to give a good reason to my employer to take that much time off, I had a project.
I definitely don’t regret doing it. These 4 months are among the best of my life! Thanks for detailing the financial impact (or non-impact 🙂 ) of doing it.
This comment is awesome and inspiring – proves that normal people are a) able to take significant breaks from work while maintaining the security of employment and b) those breaks are ridiculously great.
A sabbatical is something I’d like my wife to be able to do in a few years. Alternately, we’ve talked about a career downshift especially once we get debt free. Our living expenses are quite low and could be covered by PT work indefinitely if we want to go that route.
>>could be covered by PT work indefinitely if we want to go that route.
Great position to be in – lots of folks do exactly this and are quite happy.
Great article, as always.
I took a 7 month sabbatical last year and you’re right about the #1 fear! I went back to a 8-5 job again and subsequently left after half a year. The freedom and ability to set your own schedule was just too awesome and addictive.
Right now, I am still working for money as a freelancer. But the trade-offs (lower pay and longer journey to FI) seem much more worth it
Yep – it seems to me that this is an easy fear to turn into a positive. You left for a while and were able to re-prioritize, ultimately winding up with a better lifestyle and a time-to-FI that works for you. It’s just tough to get over the initial hurdle.
Thought-provoking post, Dr. Doom. So far I’ve had two significant breaks from working: the first was burnout/career change, the second was health-driven. I have lamented the lost earnings (both during the break and from lower salaries afterwards due to having to start new jobs or alternate careers.)
But there’s a counterbalance to that. There is, as you mentioned, a price that you pay for grinding it out, non-stop, for a decade or longer. Those breaks allowed me to explore small business ventures, focus on my family’s health, think for long periods about the direction of my life, invest time in friendships and relationships, goof off and have fun. Those gaps broke the steadily deepening process of institutionalization that eventually has you thinking, “leave my cubicle? But I like it here. The partitions are the same colour of lifeless grey that I am.” I came out of each one with the right priorities: family, health, making the world better, leisure. Though not without its worries, I became more relaxed during those breaks. Otherwise my normal state was to be constantly shot through with cortisol and clenched like a fist.
Not being able to re-fasten the dog collar is a great thing, if it forces you to improve your life. Having memories and experience not wearing the collar is definitely valuable in adapting when the day comes where you can cut it off, for good. 🙂
>>Not being able to re-fasten the dog collar is a great thing, if it forces you to improve your life.
Yes – I like this perspective. It is incredible to hear about your own breaks and re-affirms that I should have stepped away for a while myself. Seems like you have zero doubt that changing things up was beneficial.
>>The partitions are the same colour of lifeless grey that I am.
This made me laugh out loud. My kind of ‘uncomfortably real’ humor.
Thanks for the awesome comment.
Doom, thanks for another great contribution. I was able to work part time for several years while my kids were small, so while not a full break I got a taste of more flexibility. My husband has been saying he needs a sabbatical, and I really wish he would take one. The fear that holds him back? Not being guaranteed to get in to a similar paying job when he returns. I think this is typical of high earners, but he firmly believes that taking a year off would mean his income upon re-entry would drop–maybe by 50%. My guess is we are 8 years from FI, with 15 years of work and savings in the bank. In that case does it make more sense to just continue the slog to goal instead of taking the break?
Without knowing more about your husband’s specific career and situation, I can’t comment on whether he will lose earnings after leaving for a year. But it’s true that in some industries a loss can happen — finance and law come to mind. Still — 50%? I have a hard time believing the decline will be quite that steep.
>>In that case does it make more sense to just continue the slog to goal instead of taking the break?
Maybe. But keep in mind that your investment earnings will be (hopefully!) compounding. This means that the dollars you’ve already earned are likely more important than your future earnings. (Again, lots of variables in play here such as sequence of returns, the consistency of your earnings, and your savings rate to this point but the main thing I’m getting at is that you’ve already done much of the heavy lifting if you are 8/15 years (54% or more) through the journey…)
Is it possible for him to ask for a leave so his own job remains available when he returns? This might mean a shorter break, but it would seem to reduce the risk of stepping away for a while.
Dr. Doom, thank you for this and all of your other posts. You have put into words so much of what I’ve been feeling (albeit in a much funnier way). We just returned home from a nature vacation (no phones/Internet/TV, etc.); it was stunning how clear my mind became in just that short period of time away. As I biked through a maple forest, I went through so many of the items on your lists. I realized that I have to stop with the delayed gratification, and I have to start taking risks. Despite my lifelong dread of it, I had ended up in a Seussian waiting place, waiting for my stash to grow and another chance. I’m incredibly happy with every other aspect of my life, but I’m at the point where I can’t be sitting in a cube for 7 hours per day, five days per week for the next five years like a crazy wax mannequin. Just waiting. I want to plant trees and actually see them grow! My dream gap year would include travel and then a switch to a totally different job ( with a more than 55% drop in income) that I have always wanted to try, but have no idea if I will like. If it ends up that I don’t like the new job, and I want to rush to FIRE, then I’ll refasten the collar and perhaps it will feel more comfortable since I would know that I had tried the other way and could put it to rest. Honestly, I have no idea. But there isn’t always later.
I’m around my midway point – 8 years in, 8 years to go. I took 3 months off earlier this year in order to detox, and spend some time with myself and my family. I also leveraged the leave to change positions inside the company. My official party line was that i was working on a startup, which was true, but i wasn’t really into it. It was also a great way to find out that entrepreneurship is not my cup of tea…
Highly recommended for all!
Thanks so much for this post! I’ve been looking around for a read on this topic from someone else’s perspective. We started our ‘gap year’ in June from being two full time professionals to two full time economically-free humans and we’re loving the taste of early retirement. Feel free to take a gander. I will most certainly start reading through your blog. Thanks!
I’m a huge advocate of taking as much time away from career as financially and logistically possible. I call such sabbaticals “getting my mind right,” especially when the time away includes a lot of outdoor time. I think the main reason U.S. employers are so stingy with vacation time is that they don’t want workers to be reminded what life could, and should, be like.
I love the idea of taking a year or so off, especially if you’re in a good career field. We are so much more interested in enjoying the journey than racing to the finish line, though early retirement sounds awesome! We like to think of our approach as increasing financial flexibility all along the way, instead of just focusing on financial freedom or independence at the end. A gap year would certainly be a good way to use that flexibility!
Man I love this idea of taking a year or so off. Actually been thinking about this and think we can actually pull it of. It would allow us to travel and explore the world as we wish. Great analysis.
I took a sabbatical (4 months) about 3 years before leaving. Then, when I gave my notice, I was “asked” to take three months’ leave to ensure I really knew what I was doing (I know, right?!). Despite having made up my mind, I decided there was no issue with doing that to help my VP save face, but that turned into a whole other story.
The short of it is that taking time away helps us evaluate what we want while still keeping a toe in the water. It’s less scary and, assuming your gut was right, just reaffirms what we want to do and motivates us to turn up the effort a notch or two. I highly recommend it.
I actually worked up the courage to take a mini-retirement this year after waffling for 6 months about it. And I can completely understand the guilt thing…I felt like I was leaving the company in a lurch and I didn’t want to bail with such large projects on the horizon. But everything turned out fine. The hardest part was just breaking the news to my boss.
It was the best decision I could have made. I spent three months traveling in an RV to explore several national parks, got to be there my family during a difficult time, and am learning about what I need to do to make sure I will be happy and fulfilled when I have achieved true financial independence.
It’s really interesting you read this post and all the comments. I feel like the 13th fairy, but since I had a catastrophic experience taking a sabbatical I hope that by sharing it I can help others out. Even before I took a year off, I had noticed a pattern amongst female friends who took a year of maternity leave. The ones who were gunning in their career, liked their job and had strong partnerships at home, generally left, had a kid, came back to work 12 months later (often part time) and picked up where they left off. Their bosses stayed in touch and made sure they had good work to come back to, and they didn’t lose any career or earnings momentum.
Then there were a few who weren’t so happy at work, and in some cases almost decided ‘now’s a good time to have a kid because my career has stalled’. Their return to work was much harder and their earnings growth slowed. Plus they had a kid at home, making life more complicated.
It seemed to me that the time to take a break is the point where your employer is most reluctant to let you go.
In my own case, I took a year off because a lot was changing in my life and I wanted to reassess, and a big part of it was that I really disliked the culture of the organisation I worked for. A year off put that into sharp relief. Returning sucked, I hated being there, I returned to an area that was a poor match for my skill set and walked out 8 months later. Like My 15HWW, I never returned to full time work, so a traditional path to FIRE was out of the question. If taking a year off is going to leave you unable to ever return to the cube farm, perhaps shorter sabbaticals are the answer.
– if you want to take a year off because you hate your job, try changing jobs instead. Find a place where you have good career momentum and then take a break.
– if personal relationships or working in teams are integral to your work, make sure the relationships are in good shape before you go, and maintain them while you are away.
– have a back up advocate in the workplace – if your boss or other key ally leaves while you are away, it could be harder to fit back in when you return.
– this has been mentioned, but work out the timing of tax, bonuses etc. In my case, performance reviews were done annually but only if you had been in the role for 6 months. Somehow I missed 2 reviews and was on the same salary for 3 years.
– a year off might be easier in jobs like laf’s where the task is clearly defined and your skills are in high demand. If you’re a generalist, your income depends on your own ability to generate work, or supply of your skill set exceeds demand, the downside risk is higher.
FIRE rehearsals, good: making all the mistakes I made, not so much. Good luck with the execution.
Oh, and my path worked out fine in the end!
I am now even more impatient to reach FIRE. To think I’ll have time to teach a litter of kittens to tap dance! It can’t happen soon enough.
My gaps were involuntary, thanks to layoffs. But aside from income anxiety and drudgery of job hunting, found them rather enjoyable. So know I’ll enjoy retirement. Funny how I was never bored during these gaps, unlike some of my jobs and much of my schooling.
Despite that, given today’s job market, I would consider a long gap risky, especially if not assured of a job after. Think of the prejudice against the unemployed; would rather power thru. Although I recovered from my gaps career wise, I’m sure it would have progressed more smoothly without them, by having more and better job options.
Excellent idea. Best Husband and I powered through 20 years straight, with no break at all for either of us. What you write has been one of the hardest things for me on the flip side: “During that interval, I’d become used to not thinking for myself. What am I going to be doing today? Don’t have to consider THAT question too carefully… By the end of the day, I’d be so tired that I deserved to do nothing…” It took me about three months to be able to think for myself, and then the creative ideas started to flow. And this is from someone who prided (deluded) herself into thinking that I hadn’t bought into the corporate thing to the extent everyone else had, had hobbies, did more things outside of work than most people. And there I was, starting FIRE, having no idea what to do with myself. It was similar to the feeling of too many shopping choices: “Here are 500 kinds of tea. Pick one. Remember, this is what you wanted.”
I’m also surprised at how much more socializing we’re doing, multiple times a week. We NEVER had energy to go out in the evenings and have dinner with friends. We’d get home, I’d scramble to get dinner together while Best Husband finished his hellish Bay Area tech shuttle commute, we’d eat around 8, and collapse in bed around 10.
My DH just left 10 years of working for a sabbatical. He loved quitting and we sold our house and moved cross country. He’s embarking on a new career (i hope he likes it). I know we could have FI we’re 36 and 38 now and with two small kids 3 and 6. Mostly though he doesn’t want to be at home full time with them like I am. He likes working so I guess I’ll let him. The best part of what we’ve done during this sabbatical year is change. Moved, changed work, and now just having more fun. If he had continued to work at his job we’d be very secure by age 40 ie college for both kids and excess. Now if he has to work till 45 and chooses longer so be it. I like just relaxing our pace of life. We lived on about 30% of income, saved 40% and paid taxes with the rest. Our budget now is the same as before when we had income. So to live we’d need $1.5M we have around $1.2M with excessive non-frugal lifestyle. So it’d be doable. I don’t know when my DH will hang it up but we stopped last September 2015 and it’s been great. I think a gap year is nice.
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This article and the links (and your whole blog) are a great resource, I’ve found them massively helpful planning a sabbatical – thank you. I hope you keep the site up. Would be great to get an occasional update too!
Amazing article! I was asking on the MMM forum about taking some sort of mini retirement, and someone linked me to this article!
Your example numbers are nearly identical to my actual numbers… I’m handcuffed to my job until June 6 (401k vesting and tuition reimbursement period)… Excited to take a year off!
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