NPR Morning Edition featured a story today about non-traditional retirements: Seeing The (Northern) Light: A Temporary Arctic Retirement. Instead of waiting until 65, Winston Chen decided to stop working for an entire year mid-career and moved his family to a small Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle with only 180 residents.
The whole family got to do many things they’d never do otherwise. Financially, they offset their mortgage by renting out their Boston home completely as-is for a year to another family on a temporary work assignment. His wife Kristin was able to get a job teaching elementary school in Norway for a year, as it was a remote area that needed teachers. They could keep expenses low as the tiny village had no need for a car, no malls, and no restaurants. One of his pursuits ended up being an iPhone app that took off and now supports their entire family, although that wasn’t the goal.
The inspiration came from the TEDtalk “The power of time off” by designer Stefan Sagmeister. Here’s a screenshot (sorry for the poor quality) illustrating the traditional working timeline: learn for 25 years, work for 40 years, then retire for 25 years.
A commenter pointed out that this shows that our society seems to feel that education is for the young, work is for the middle-aged, and leisure is for the elderly. But what if you decided to snip 5 years from those retirement years and sprinkle them between your working years? This is essentially the idea of sabbaticals, usually associated with tenured professors taking a paid year off from their usual teaching and research duties. Every 7 years, Sagmeister completely shuts down his popular design shop for an entire year.
Both Sagmeister and Winston Chen add that if you do this, you shouldn’t just give yourself a year of nothing and expect to figure it out along the way. At the minimum, you should make a list of all the things that you want to try and/or accomplish (Chen’s included oil painting, photography, reading, learning Norwegian, and learning how to play the ukulele). Both broke it down into a daily schedule as well (Chen’s is below).
I’ve been thinking about doing something similar, except with a straight-up house-swap where we live in say a French house and the French family gets to live in an American house, so that housing costs are pretty much taken care of. I don’t think food costs should be too bad, and I’d like to find a city where public transportation is all you need. My favorite quotes from Chen’s follow-up comments:
Society tends to throw obstacles in front of people who want to do things out of the norm. [...] I really believe everyone can do it, if you want it badly enough.
Chen blogged about his adventures at http://arcticdream.me/. A similar concept of “mini-retirements” was also explored in the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. NPR segment found via @steveo3387, RT by @ramit. Here’s the TEDtalk embedded: