I initially called it “strategic planning.” Then I called it “existentialist break” and sometimes, loosely, “soul-searching,” which both felt partially wrong. When I was reaching out for the exit, it didn’t feel like I was at a loss with who I am or what the purpose of my life is. It felt like I needed fresh air, a change of scenery, a long walk. It felt like I’m slowing down to assess my accomplishments and reassess my plans. Then I called it “life break,” which is an apt term and more convenient to say to friends when they ask why I’d quit. “Life break,” — it rolls out fast and is self-explanatory, which I liked. Then towards the end of my life break, I came to see it as “Early Retirement Trial Pack,” which is a lovely name and lends a freer, wiser vibe to it.
But whatever name I call it by, it IS, essentially, an attempt to take a break from adulting. It is nearly the equivalent of every Internet success story about some yuppie who quits his/her job to travel the world — only that mine is a three-month staycation and I didn’t quit my job.
So I jumped off the cliff yelling “Fck it!”
The thought had lingered since February. Something B A D happened. In the first few months, I was angry and severely disappointed. Then there’s the mandatory one-month summer break (I was a college instructor) and I thought I got my swag back. But a few weeks into work again and I felt meh and just plain dead inside. I kept asking myself the same question Steve Jobs used to ask himself every morning in the mirror: “If this were the last day of my life, will I be doing what I’m about to do today?” And the answer had been consistently no for ten weeks and that’s how I knew that there was something deeply wrong. (However I survived those gruelling months is just a WOW level of maturity and powering through.)
My life break started on July 6. Since then I’ve been living mostly on my life savings. The first week, I felt restless. I wasn’t used to doing nothing especially that the last weeks at work was a mad dash of beating deadlines, completing requirements, and dealing with emotional students who flunked my class. In the first week, I did all sorts of self-improvements. I signed up for a free Android app coding course, I tried to learn Spanish again, I did some painting, wrote some poetry, gamed some games, and watched episodes of ‘Clash of the Gods’ and ‘Friends’ — and still I was restless.
In the second week, I went back to the uni to do some extracurricular jobs for a fee. I noticed that my mood picked up. I felt lighter about my life and I was extra friendly to people. I also started to tie loose ends. In the second week, the idea of starting a blog popped in my head.
…And I fell down into a rabbit hole.
In the third week, I went to Baguio to attend a(n all-expense paid) national writers’ workshop. I must admit that I applied for a fellowship partly because I wanted to take a vacation elsewhere without breaking my bank. When Sir Ralph called me a month earlier to say that I got in, I immediately knew that it was ~the sign~ that I should go on a life break. I told my boss that I wanted to explore the world (We’re okay. I love her.) and so life break I did.
My experience at the workshop was the first time during my life break that I felt that I was completely at the right place at the right time (with the right people). The scenery was refreshing (Pine trees! Wooden houses! Mountains!), it was romantically cold, and the food was always good. The people are the best too. Sir Jimmy praised everybody’s camaraderie and said it was the fun-nest writers’ workshop he’s ever been to. The resident fellows applauded us for having been a strong batch and I was honored to be co-fellows with these really nice and talented people. Everybody just loved everybody else during the workshop, and I was just so happy to be there.
I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t “pimp” my poems for a free getaway to clear my mind up. Perhaps I wouldn’t have taken a life break at all if I didn’t get that phone call from Sir Ralph.
The second time that I felt that I was completely at the right place at the right time was when I and my high school BFF went on a joint birthday weekend in Tagaytay during the 10th week of my life break. In Tagaytay, we lived a highly ‘Instagrammable life’ and ate really good food until our bellies bulged and there’s no hiding it anymore. I couldn’t count the times that I told my friend “We’re living the good life,” across the food table, and we laughed heartily because we did. Out of a whim, I bought four potted herbs and totted them with me back to Manila. That’s how I became a plant mom.
But the fun did not end in Tagaytay. When we came back to Manila on Tuesday night, the traffic was a complete standstill because it had rained so hard that some roads flooded and were impassable. I and my friend had no choice but to stay at this nearby motel (for which I’m forever thankful because it was there for us when Manila traffic had failed us. Huhu #RESPECT). We’d never been to a motel before and we’d both thought that our room’s gonna be all dingy and eew but to our surprise, it’s whiter and cleaner and even had better facilities than the lodging inn that we had stayed in in Tagaytay. I remember how I held my head high as I made my way out to the lobby doors the next day. It was a first of many.
Back in the 7th week, for the first time, I went to a mall show of a favorite artist ALONE. I really wanted to see Walk the Moon play because the vocalist Nick Petricca looked a lot like my ultimate college crush when Nick’s younger. (Also, WTM has really good music hehe.) So I arrived early at the mall and tweeted how stoked I was for the show. The next thing, I got free VIP tix to the mosh pit (Thank you, Philippine Concerts!) with fans young enough to be my students. But that didn’t matter anymore when WTM started playing. I danced and sang to their songs like the kids did and it was so much fun. I felt I was fun too.
A month later, in the 11th week, I went to the movies ALONE for the first time. I went to see Heneral Luna. It was a great film and I laughed a lot by myself during the greater part of the show. I then sold the film to my godmother and she saw it and she hated Aguinaldo. Now I’m excited for Gregorio del Pilar.
…And I still adulted.
It was not all serendipity and bucketlists and YOLO. In between these spectacular moments, I did special projects for the uni to replenish my funds. I worked on my blog. I fixed and fetched some papers. I did my laundry. I worked on my blog again. I cared for my plants. I made weekly schedules and tried to accomplish something worthwhile every single day.
Turns out I couldn’t take a break from life at all. I couldn’t take a break from adulting either. I still work and I still live and I still function as an adult because I am now, irreversibly, an adult living creature. The difference I guess is that, in my life break, I set my own goals and do things my own pace. I’m not stressed out about deliverables or deadlines or workload. I don’t need to be elsewhere at fixed hours a day for several days a week. It was when I stumbled on this article that I finally found the words to describe better what I am doing: I am an “early retiree.” And it is the most empowering I’ve ever felt.
Why I DON’T recommend this for YOU
Though it seems like I’m living the dream of every unhappy office worker on this planet, this might not work well for you. I have friends who have taken life breaks and it has worked differently for each of them. Some cite it as a depressing experience. Some others, a fruitful one. I studied the trend in our life breaks and it seems to me that three key factors make up every happy life break: (1) PURPOSE, (2) MONEY, and (3) FAMILY’S SUPPORT.
Case in point: First, I felt it deep in my guts that taking a life break was the best way to go. I had at least a slightest idea of why and how I’m doing it, and FOR HOW LONG. Second, I have my life savings to live on during my life break. I work a few side jobs to keep the cashflow running somehow. I have safety nets (indefinite leave, my parents) in case I fail or fall short. Third, my parents are supportive of me. I told them what my plans are and, having had the money to spend for three months without asking for their help, I’ve looked like I knew what I am doing and I am in control – which actually have felt that way somehow. THUS, these three combined, I’m happy with how my life break turns out and I’m very much enjoying it.
The worst thing that you can do is go on a life break on an empty bank account – especially if you’re supporting some other people. Unfortunately, money will greatly determine the success or failure of your life break. To be able to cover your (and their) basic needs and a little of luxury sometimes is the minimum requirement. Think about it: If you can’t buy yourself (and them) good food, Internet, and beers during your life break, how will you be happy?
Honey, you can’t afford to be lost and poor at the same time. Believe me.
My life currently
My funds are running low and I loaned from my sister. As planned, towards the end of my three-month life break, I’ll re-enter the workforce. I’ve been looking for a job and I was interviewed for some already. I’m shifting careers so it’s kinda hard. However, there’s this one job I fell in love with and I’m really praying to get it.
Last night, my parents got wind that I was running low on cash and offered to “sponsor” me for the time being. I declined their help, said my thanks, and told them that I’ll send them my bank account number only after I have maxed out my life savings. I’m lucky to have rural middle-class parents.
Like what I’ve mentioned early in this post, a major setback in my life triggered this life break and it has changed many of my plans. Truthfully, my life savings was supposed to be split and invested in funds, but priorities change and I have already made peace with these changes. Look what have I got in return: A blog, some unforgettable experiences, new friends, my papers, my four potted herbs, and a newfound sense of clarity and direction in my life. Now I deeply understand the pure awesome-ness that is early retirement and it is something that I will be aiming for in the next few years. So far, I can say that my life break has been a very good investment. The Universe works in mysterious ways, indeed.
P.S. I really want that job. Please pray for me. 🙂