I love my job. I mean, I actually enjoy what I do. As a high school teacher, I enjoy working with youth, I love my colleagues, I laugh everyday, and I am always learning something, usually from the students. However, even as someone who is satisfied in their career, I can strongly recommend a mid-career retirement to anyone who is looking to get more out of life.
Right now, 10 years into my teaching career, I am in the middle of an unpaid leave of absence; to travel around the world and experience activities and moments that I might not be able to do when I finally do retire. This is a backwards thinking for our Western society, where we are conditioned and taught to work and save, work and save, and buy the items that become indicators of our success. By taking this 2 year hiatus, I am doing exactly the opposite. I will come home with next to nothing; having sold most items before leaving, and spending the bulk of my savings on travel. However, I come home to my job, which means I can pick up where I left off, sort of like a new teacher all over again. Except for now, I understand things a little differently. I need so much less than I did before, especially in material items, but also in everyday items as well. I am less entranced by name brands (although they hardly did much for me in the first place), because after spending time in some of the poorest communities in the world, I can really appreciate how little happiness those material items actually bring.
Before deciding to take this mid-career retirement, some harsh realities about life were presented to me. Life is unpredictable, and none of us knows what tomorrow might bring. Which is why despite the cliche, it is so important to live life to the fullest. A dear colleague of mine loved teaching as well. So much so, that he stayed on for a few more years to continue to contribute to the bright young minds, who so eagerly took his courses. The year he announced his retirement, he planned a huge party at his beautiful house on the lake. Sadly, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, six months prior to his retirement, and passed away shortly after. This event really highlighted to me how important it is to do the things we want, whenever possible. Which is why during this trip, I have strived to do things that I might not physically be able to do when I actually retire. Activities such as, hiking in the Himalayas, rock climbing in Laos, canyoning in Vietnam, zip lining in the Philippines, and scuba diving in Indonesia, are just some of the incredible and unique experiences I have been able to be present for during this journey.
I understand that leaving your job on an unpaid leave is a daunting task, which is why I recommend the following (also, how I will arrange my next leave). Set aside 25% of your pay in a savings account for 2 years. This seems like a lot, but it has repeatedly been shown that we generally tend to live within our means. Which means that if you have that 25% immediately placed in a separate account, you won’t actually miss the money. Instead, spend less money on overpriced takeaway coffee, overpriced purses, and overpriced clothing, and you should be just fine with your new budget.
Another great recommendation from Mr. Money Moustache, a blogger who retired at the age of 30, is to never buy a car for more than 10,000 dollars, and then try and use that car as little as possible, by walking or cycling, whenever possible. By doing this for 2 years, you should save enough to take at least a 6 month mid-career retirement to pursue interests that are dear to you.
The next obstacle is to get your employer on board with your leave of absence. I am incredibly fortunate to work for an employer who allows us to take an unpaid leave of up to 2 years, while maintaining our seniority. This is an incredible opportunity, and I honestly can’t think of why other companies aren’t offering this incentive. Here are the benefits to the employer:
- There is greater work productivity from employees who are satisfied and happy; which is a natural byproduct of time off, spent doing what they love.
- The cost of the short-term replacement employee is usually lower than the higher pay of the employee who has taken the leave, thus saving the company money.
- There is a more stable economy when people are taking leaves from their jobs, because it is providing employment to others for a period of time, which means that there are more people contributing to the system, thus strengthening the financial stability for the market, and thus companies.
- Employees who have taken time off, have the opportunity to have a variety of experiences, making them more well-rounded, with a broader perspective, and likely develop better problem solving skills and creativity.
Another common response I get from friends and family when I recommend they consider a mid-career retirement is “I want to one day, when the kids are older”. I personally think there is no better time than now to take that time with your kids. In our current world, parents are working more than ever before, which means time with children is rushed and hectic. Taking a leave and traveling with your children will enrich not only the development of your kids, but also your relationship as a family. We have met many travelling families during this trip, and they love the experience with their kids. It is incredible to see children who are foreigners and children who are locals, running down the beach playing together. Or kids colouring while taking a tiny wooden boat up the Mekong river to a remote village. I don’t have children myself, but I can’t imagine how this experience wouldn’t create children who are flexible, resilient, open-minded, and much more aware of the world around them: all traits I am happy to see in future generations.
Taking this time off has been the best decision for me personally. Travel is something I love to do, and spending time in Asia, has been really quite affordable, compared to many Western countries. If travel isn’t what you love to do, then simply take the time to do whatever it is that is your passion, or take the opportunity to discover new interests.
If you have other ways to achieve a mid-career retirement, I would love to hear them. And if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.