What did I learn from this experiment with semi-retirement?

I’m so glad I started this experiment! The timing worked out perfectly.

I was pretty happy with the corporate world, but I also wanted to learn about all sorts of things that don’t fit into the usual 9 to 5. I learned that I can have fun building very different kinds of businesses, and that people are wonderful to work with. Enterprise social business (prototyping, analysis, and consulting) was a natural extension of my master’s research and my work at IBM. I got the opportunity to work with my biggest client because a former mentor happened to read my blog when I was planning the experiment, so hooray for blogging. Rails development and Linux system administration let me help a friend out of a tough spot. Graphic facilitation, sketchnoting, and illustration helped me explore new areas and play with visual thinking. Answering people’s questions on Google’s short-lived Helpouts platform showed me ways I could help people learn more. Publishing pay-what-you-want resources opened up lots of conversations and exposed people’s generosity. And to top it all off, I found that I actually enjoyed the nitty-gritty details of running a business: updating my records, filing my taxes, forming agreements, specifying projects, delegating work, and even following up on late payments.

The most important thing I learned was how to have enough. I gradually shifted my balance away from work and toward leisure, freeing up roughly one day a week every year. I learned to trust the butterflies of my interest instead of being driven by the taskmaster of self-imposed deadlines. I learned how to sit in parks and have long conversations with friends, how to cook for crowds, and how to sew for myself. I learned how to get through fuzzy days and foggy days. I learned that I love the stillness and openness of quiet time.

The experiment helped me gain the confidence to take on the challenge of raising a tiny human. I’m not worried about a large gap in my career. That won’t matter if I can come up with a business that fills a need. I’m not worried about being starved for time or autonomy. I got to enjoy so much of it up front, and I can wait a few years for more. I’m not worried about my finances. I enjoy a frugal lifestyle and I manage the numbers well. We’ve got probably one of the best starting points for another experiment, and I’m looking forward to exploring that adventure.

Also, because I didn’t need to take parental leave, W- got to take all the paid leave, so A- got extra time with both of us! Awesome.

What’s next? Another long-term experiment, this time with a more conventional label. I’d like to see what it’s like for us to have at least one parent at home with A- during her preschool years. That will most likely be me, but it could be W- if circumstances require. Children become eligible for kindergarten in the year they turn 4, so we’re already a quarter of the way there. I’ve learned so much about human development in the past year, and I look forward to learning even more. I might even get to incorporate some of those ideas into whatever businesses I end up starting in the next phase of this experimental life.

  • grep72

    Major props to you for having the vision to see this experiment and the courage to try it. And props to W for his support of you through it.