Why You Should Take “A Relaxing Mid-Career Break”

Photo by Jeremy Ricketts on Unsplash.

I know that one of the benefits of freelancing is that you can take as much time off as you need, but — as it often goes with unlimited vacation policies, official or unofficial — I’ve never really been able to take advantage of it.

When I was a new, not-so-well-paid freelancer, I couldn’t afford to take much time off — so I combined work and vacation and cranked out more than one 600-word content assignment in a hotel room (or in my parents’ basement, the day after Christmas).

Now I’m better paid, but I have more responsibility. I’ve added small-business ownership to my portfolio, which makes it even harder to take time off. My long weekend in Missoula was technically a vacation, but I still spent part of it checking in on The Billfold, answering emails, prepping a few posts in anticipation of arriving back at my apartment too exhausted to work, etc. As Kelly Conaboy put it: “after you return from vacation you should have a mandatory one- or two-day period to readjust before you go back to normal life.”

Which brings me to this LA Times article — presented by Billfolder request — titled “Why retire when you’re too old to enjoy it? Quit your job now.”

There’s prudent logic behind a relaxing mid-career break. With longer lives come longer careers and longer retirements — the first so that you can afford the second. But a 40-year career, ending at age 60 or 65, is a very different prospect from a 50-year career ending at 70 or 75.

Ah, the relaxing mid-career break. Funded by savings, assumedly, and bracketed by the type of network and skills that’ll allow you to seamlessly reintegrate into the workforce. The LA Times notes that taking this type of break “is still a financial impossibility for the vast majority of workers,” and it’s nice that they addressed that at the very beginning of the article. Keep reading, and you’ll learn about a new tool from Wealthfront that’ll help you plan your time off:

For example, the company estimates a 32-year-old who earns $250,000 a year, with $100,000 saved and a 20% savings rate, can comfortably afford a two-year trip costing $3,000 a month — assuming the person keeps the same salary and savings rate after the trip.

Those two years of lost income — and the subsequent loss of years of compounding gains on those savings — definitely come with a price. Wealthfront estimates this 24-month, $72,000 trip ultimately would reduce this hypothetical client’s net worth at age 65 by $1.1 million, from $8.2 million to $7.1 million. That’s still more than enough to cover her estimated needs in retirement, however.

I’m a little confused, though. Where’s the math on how much time it’ll take to find a new job after returning from two years of travel? If you need a one-to-two-day period to readjust after a typical vacation, I’d imagine you’d want a one-to-two-month period of adjustment time after returning from two years abroad. You’ll have to find a new place to live and/or re-establish yourself in your old home (and if you had renters in your home for two years, you’ll probably need to do some cleanup work, get your furniture out of storage, etc.). You’ll want to reach out to your network and update your resume. You’ll need to buy, like, a ton of food.

And sure, that’s being nitpicky, what’s a month or two of additional expenses after two years abroad? Plus, the type of “well-paid workers in high-demand fields such as technology” who can take these mid-career breaks can also probably pick up a few well-paid consulting or freelance gigs to help cover that gap — and one of those consulting gigs might turn into their next full-time job. (I knew someone who did pretty much exactly this.)

I will say that, after my past two vacations, aka “long weekends where I also did some work,” I’ve started thinking seriously about how I might take actual time off in the future. I may be at that stage of my life where you don’t really get responsibility-free time off (which is something Ask A Manager’s commenters were discussing this morning: the idea that at a certain point you have to accept that vacations include email-checking, kid-wrangling, older-relative-monitoring, and you can’t live your life trying to recreate the trips you took in your early 20s), but it’s worth thinking about what I’d need to do/plan/outsource to have, say, a two-week trip with minimal work. In, like, Summer 2019.

So. Read the LA Times piece, and let us know what you think — and if you’ve ever taken a relaxing mid-career break of your own.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.