Those articles in Money magazine and Marketwatch always catch our eye. “Retire at 45” or “Take a year or two off”. They always leave me wondering..Can it really be done?
In 2015, I took a desk job, that involved a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a LOT of sitting. So much sitting, that I put on 20 pounds in under 12 months. (more on losing that in a future post)
The “Family leave act” is no real form of a safety net, and I’ve yet to meet an employer that welcomes the idea of someone actually using it. Regardless, I wouldn’t subject an employer to the disruption of start and stop employment, for an extended period, so after running the numbers, and calculating the cost benefit of how much I had been earning, coupled with the true value of my time, I decided to take a full year off. Since there is a growing chorus of articles and sidebars of Boomers/Gen-Xer’s who will need to care for aging parents, I thought I’d share what a year of different responsibility looked like for me. We had a small cushion that would allow us to do it, so here is what that year looked like.
In February, my Mother-in-law needed to relocate from Allentown, PA to San Diego. Schlepping back and forth from Brooklyn, in a rental car, 5 or 6 weekends wasn’t fun. Especially for someone who I’ve never exactly wanted to throw a ticker-tape parade. All in all, this was an interesting exercise in family dynamics. Change is difficult for many people, especially if it’s happening toward the end of one’s life. We found ourselves being her health advocate and I think it made a difference in the quality of care that she received. After 2 months and a lot of box packing and paper work, she made it on that plane.
In 2014, my sister was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer, and, with 7 siblings, I drew the lucky straw of being a bone marrow match for her. It turned out to be an honor, and an opportunity to get to know my sister, her husband, and my two nephews a little bit better. Since I don’t have my own children, it put me back in touch with a younger generation and provided some perspective on where future generations might be headed and how we might bridge the generation gap. This time the commute was JFK to SFO for 2 round trips, each taking about 2 weeks. As of today, that process has had a positive outcome. While I was anxious about the process, I was happy to participate and contribute in a meaningful way. It may up being the single most benevolent thing I’ve ever done.
Finally, there was a desire to complete a kitchen upgrade, that would make life a little easier and look a lot nicer than the kitchen we were replacing. Convincing your wife that you can afford it, and that I could do it myself was probably the biggest hurdle. I started removing one cabinet per week, before I left for my first trip to the West coast. Tina Fey did one of her episodes of 30 Rock about couples that get “weird” when they start visiting Ikea together on a regular basis. I started to feel that way, after the planning was done, I didn’t please my wife when I insisted on calling our “Farm sink” “Domsjo.” While it took me almost 6 weeks to finish the entire project, it has turned out to be the greatest part of the time off, that continues to pay benefits.
Since my wife is currently between jobs too, it has allowed us time to create and learn from each other. It’s such a different level and experience than coming home from work and saying to each other. “What are we doing for dinner?”
In summary, I think, while family is important, you really need to balance those responsibilities with being kind to yourself and ensuring that you provide a good quality of life for yourself and your family. That includes working on communication and taking time to reflect how stress affects your life, and how you might manage it in the future.
I often say to Sharon, that this has been the “Best Summer ever!” Now it’s turning into the best Fall. What would you do with a year?