5 Tips for Taking a Mini-Retirement

Here is how to fit a mini-retirement into your career plans.

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Some people call them mini-retirements, sabbaticals, or simply an extended break from the 9 to 5 lifestyle. Instead of working until age 65 and then retiring, some individuals are interested in stepping away from a structured job for more than the standard two week vacation. Here are some tips for fitting a mini-retirement into your career plans.

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Save up beforehand. The first step to taking a mini-retirement is saving up enough money to finance a few months without working. “Have twice as much money as you think you will need for your living expenses,” advises Joe Flood, 43, a Web editor in Washington, D.C. who has taken four career breaks of approximately three to six months each. “Your mini-retirement may last longer than you anticipate because it may be hard to find a job again,” says Flood. You also need to have a plan for health insurance. Flood bought his own individual policy. Some people may also be eligible for COBRA coverage through their previous job.

Unplug. Once you begin a mini-retirement, step away from your normal routine of constantly responding to e-mail and voice mail. “Go a few days or a week at a time without checking e-mail and really make an effort to connect with human beings in person,” says Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Ferriss says a mini-retirement should last a minimum of four weeks and preferably three months or longer. “You want a complete removal from your day to day routine and day to day reactions,” Ferriss says. “One of the main purposes of a mini-retirement is acting as a reset button.”

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Get outside your comfort zone. Many people who take mini-retirements use them to experience and become immersed in another culture. “It’s made me feel like a braver person that I could go and live abroad,” says Teresa Engebretsen, 51, a private middle school French teacher in Durham, N.C. She took a 6-month sabbatical in 2008 to work as a chef's assistant at a bed and breakfast in Arles, France. “Getting to know French people certainly has changed my ability to communicate,” Engebretsen says. Stepping outside your comfort zone can change the way you look at the world and perhaps lead to new opportunities. “I think it’s very beneficial for Americans if they can go to a culture that runs at a slower speed,” says Ferriss. “It’s not just about achievement, but about slowing down and really making a conscious effort to recognize that the goal in life is not to speed it up.”

Set a goal. On her first mini-retirement, Tina Su, 30, of Seattle, spent three months traveling around India, spending about two weeks in each city. “By the fourth week I didn’t want to look at any more tourist attractions,” says Su, the founding editor of Think Simple Now. When Su took a second 3-month mini-retirement, instead of trying to see it all, she attended a spiritual retreat in India. “Set a clear intention of what it is that you want to do,” Su advises. Having a goal or project to work on can make a mini-retirement more rewarding. Flood used his latest mini-retirement to write a mystery novel, Murder in Ocean Hall. “When I wrote the book I basically kept a work-like schedule where I would commute to the neighborhood coffee house to work on my book from 8:30 to noon every day,” says Flood. “I think of it as an opportunity to expand your skills and try new things and hobbies.”

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Determine the next phase of your career. A mini-retirement gives you a chance to reflect on your career thus far and strategize future goals. “The sabbatical is about stepping back and accessing where you are in the big picture of life to help determine what’s next,” says Clive Prout, a sabbatical life coach in San Juan Islands, Wash.

Trent Dyrsmid, 40, of San Diego sold the technology company he founded in 2008 and then took a year off to relax, network, and retool to become a real estate agent. “One of the greatest benefits for me was having the time to think about what it is that I really want to do in life,” says Dyrsmid. “You have an opportunity to quiet things down enough in your mind and in your life so that you might notice some things that never made it on to the radar screen before.”