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Intro and Request for Advice re: My ER Preview
Old 08-03-2008, 07:49 PM   #1
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Intro and Request for Advice re: My ER Preview

Hi all. I am not really new here, but I have never done an intro post. So I thought it was time to do one. At the same time, I have an issue about which I would greatly appreciate input from the board. I have really come to appreciate the board and the posters here. There is a lot of wisdom here, and I could really use some of it now.

I am 41 yo attorney. Since graduating, I have paid off all my loans and have managed to sock away about 50-60% of what I think I will need to ER. I expect I would need about another 5-7 years to get to 100%, assuming I stayed at my current position and assuming no chronic market meltdown.

The issue I am confronting is that I feel a need to make a change in my work life. I am just unhappy doing what I am doing. I am temporarily happy on Friday night and Saturday, and am depressed on Sunday evening, as another week is about to begin. But I haven’t really been able to figure out what I want to do. As a result of my ambivalence, I am functioning as a good lawyer, but not an excellent one (as might be the case if I were engaged and enthusiastic about the work).

So, after much angst, I decided that I would like to take a big chunk of time off, anywhere from 6 mos. to one year. I would use that time to do a number of things, including dealing with a few health issues, pursuing personal interests, and perhaps most importantly deciding what I want to do for the "second act" in my life. As an added bonus, I would get to have a little preview of what ER might be like.
It sounds like a fun plan, and it makes me excited just to think about it. But it also makes me nervous and a little nauseated. The financial hit is tolerable. I calculate it will cost me about 45K to do it for a full year, less if I take off less time. (That is out of pocket of course, and does not include the value of the lost salary during this period).

But the money is not what bothers me. What worries me is that the whole idea may just be ill advised. What if, when I am ready to go back to work, no one wants to hear from some unemployed applicant? What if people think I was terminated rather than voluntarily unemployed? What if a future employer thinks it is flaky to just take time off at age 41? Then, as I ponder these questions, I will turn on the news and hear about how the market just dropped 200 points or how we are on the verge of Great Depression II, and suddenly the idea of taking time off seems extravagant and a little nuts. On the other hand, what am I supposed to do – just grind away for another 7 years at something that doesn’t fulfill me?

So, please let me have your honest opinion: is this "sabbatical" idea a smart idea for developing a life plan or an ill-advised indulgence? Has anyone else here done something like this?
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Old 08-03-2008, 07:59 PM   #2
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I don't think it's a bad idea at all...just a few suggestions.

1) Have you considered not quitting, but instead taking a leave of absence? Why? You could return to work for the company and therefore not show a gap in employment...look for your new career while employed with them. At our company a leave of absence is considered continued employment...my wife took one for educational purposes.

2) Have you talked with your current employer about a dramatic change in your work assignments? Sometimes that's just what you need.

3) Make sure you have health insurance if you quit working...COBRA or otherwise.

4) Read this book - Amazon.com: What Color Is Your Parachute?, 2004: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters & Career-Changers (What Color Is Your Parachute): Richard Nelson Bolles: Books

5) Start networking, even if you don't know what you want to do....tell your friends, family, etc...and let them know you're interested in other things.

Don't put yourself through 6 more years of misery....figure out what's going on and fix it.

That's my $.02. Keep us posted.

P.S. I'm considering something similar (change careers to one paying less, and working longer than originally planned)....so I've been pondering some of these things also.

Dave
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Old 08-03-2008, 08:26 PM   #3
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What if a future employer thinks it is flaky to just take time off at age 41?
I took a (partially unplanned) year off when I was exactly your age. I worried that employers would wonder the same thing about me, but to a person, interviewers all said something equivalent to: "Wow, I wish I could take a year off!"

I say go for it. When you come back, tell them you took time to "recharge the batteries" and that you're fresh, rested, and rarin' to go.
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Old 08-03-2008, 09:53 PM   #4
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EagleEye, I never did the sabbatical thing, but if i were interviewing someone who had, I'd consider it a plus.

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Old 08-03-2008, 10:06 PM   #5
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I'm in the Financial Services industry and took a full year off from October 2005 to October 2006. I did it because I had grown tired of my work and had sufficient resources to take a year (and much more if I wanted) off. After having recharged my batteries and experiencing a mini-version of ER (ups and downs) I was ready to get back into the workforce. I had no problems getting job offers. I am now back doing something I enjoy a lot more than before and for an organization I like infinitely better than my previous employer. In short, if you leave on good terms and have a good reputation, I can't see this working against you or anyone else for that matter.

I am 80% where I want to be financially in order to ER. I should be there in about 2 years which gets me there at 47.

Go for it. You'll be glad you did.
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Old 08-03-2008, 10:08 PM   #6
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I'd suggest looking into the leave of absence which gets you the best of both worlds. Failing that, sabbatical is possibility which is becoming more and more accepted. I've thought a lot about trying one myself. From a hiring manager's point of view, I haven't had a problem accepting candidates with a sabbatical as potential hires, but I have had a problem with the attitude of many when they return to work that think very highly of themselves and their stale skills. Keep in mind that it's always easier to find work when you already have a job and you should be fine.
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Old 08-03-2008, 10:18 PM   #7
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Watch City Slickers and figure out that one thing Curly was talking about.
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:04 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EagleEye View Post
So, please let me have your honest opinion: is this "sabbatical" idea a smart idea for developing a life plan or an ill-advised indulgence? Has anyone else here done something like this?
Seems like your choices are to be a decent but burned-out lawyer with a continuous résumé, or a happier & more motivated lawyer with a gap labeled "sabbatical".

Gumby & Martha can help you plan the details around your legal avocation...
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Old 08-04-2008, 01:04 AM   #9
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Is this board great or what? Thanks for all of your input. You guys are the best! A few responses:

Finance Dave and Growing Older:

I appreciate the tip about a leave of absence. I agree that would be preferable. Unfortunately, for a few reasons having to do with the idiosyncracies of law firm culture, I doubt that it is an option for me. Similarly, you can't really ask for a dramatic change in work, as it is all client-driven and (in a corporate law firm) one practices only in one chosen area. So bottom line is that if I am going to do this, it is going to be a definitive split.

I have thought about insurance issues. For the first time in my life I have had to consider the cost of insurance in a private market. Definitely something that everyone thinking of ER should be thinking about and factoring in to their ER budgets. I am going to stick with COBRA, since the planned time off is less than 18 months and the cost of continuing under COBRA is within reason.


As for grinding on, I really have thought about it. I have told myself that 5 or 6 or 7 more years is not that much longer and that it would be safer to wait until I hit the right number. But really all I would be doing is marking time. I don't think it is right for me to spend what may be 10-15% of my remaining time on earth counting down the clock, followed by ER. If I am going to work for a while longer, I think I should try to pursue something fulfilling, where I might really excel. Also, in the last few weeks, there have been 3 or 4 relatively young (late 40s/early 50s) lawyers at corporate law firms who have kicked the bucket. It really reminds you of the fact that one's number (the other kind of number) can be up at any time. I can't stand the thought of marking time for 5 years, waiting for life to really begin, only to get the call from the reaper at 5 years plus 1 day.

Caroline and Medit8:

Thanks so much for sharing and for the insight. Would you care to share any details of your respective sabbaticals? For instance, what kind of job did you leave, how long were you off, and what did you ultimately decide to do at the end of the interlude?

Nords:

I am big fan of all your posts! Unfortunately, I am still enough of a newbie that I didn't follow the reference to Gumby and Martha. Can you explain the reference?

Coach and Pete:

Thanks for the input! You know, I never saw City Slickers, but your post has me intrigued. So I will check it out. I'll take wisdom whereever I can find it.
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Old 08-04-2008, 01:23 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EagleEye View Post
Nords:
I am big fan of all your posts! Unfortunately, I am still enough of a newbie that I didn't follow the reference to Gumby and Martha. Can you explain the reference?
Gumby & Martha are two other board members, both lawyers, who have experienced aspects of what you're contemplating. There are probably a few other posters who I've overlooked, but those two came to mind first.
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Old 08-04-2008, 06:46 AM   #11
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Maybe a sabbatical is a match for you and your profession --- I guess it really depends on how hard it is to get on with a firm after the time off.

I know with my job I had to work hard to get where I am and I would dread putting the effort back into trying to get close to where I am again.

You indicate it would cost you 45k to take the 6 mo off, I ask you to look at this again.
What are the chances you will be brought on with a new Firm at the same salary and bonuses? You may find that long term the sabbatical cost you a whole lot more than you bargained for. Not trying to discourage you from it but I want you to see clearly the choice you are making before you choose to do it.

Also

You mention you tendancy to dread the day before work because it reminds you of what is coming. Perhaps that is an indicator .......
I have read occasionally in these threads that the 6 month off deal ends up for some being just like the weekend syndrome you experience --- The first half is nice and enjoyable once they can wrap their mind around it and then the last half you are just dreading the return or the beginning of the job search.

Myself -- (just my personality) I would tough it out and stay on track for the 5-7 year retirement. But I am really conservative and giving up my "bird in the hand" for what may be in "the bush" is not my tendancy.
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Old 08-04-2008, 01:57 PM   #12
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You seem to be experiencing many of the signs of burnout so it's definitely time to "sharpen the saw". BTW, that's a Stephen Covey phrase, and if you haven't read his books, you might enjoy the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

I took a sabbatical at about your age. I learnt new skills, and came back ready to renew and refresh my career. I strongly recommend it.

In your case, since the corporate law firm culture doesn't support sabbaticals, I suggest researching some courses that interest you and might lead to a new area of expertise. For example, if corporate law has become boring, you could become a specialist in the subtleties of prenups and divorce in the entertainment industry (example only!). If your interests coincide with a skill that your firm needs, they might even invest in your personal development. If not, you will still have opportunities to pursue.
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Old 08-04-2008, 02:14 PM   #13
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EagleEye,

I've been on a sabbatical after getting let go from an engineering job because I was burned out and my performance suffered for too long.

It sounds to me like you're burned out. I would suggest you try to figure out what you're burned out on: is it your current employer? your current job? the entire field of law? Depending on how you answer those questions might lead you to follow different paths during your sabbatical.

I am 39 and had about 8 years to go to FIRE when I was let go. I tried to tough it out like militaryman suggested and was unable/unwilling to do so. So my vote would be for the sabbatical.

Good luck, keep us posted...

2Cor521
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Old 08-04-2008, 02:24 PM   #14
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One way to see if your apparent impending burnout is due to your current situation v. your chosen profession v. personal issues: look for another lawyer job. Don't sweat the salary, just choose one where the culture and personalities are compatible and the work rewarding. Maybe something less than full time. The honeymoon effect of a new job will give you a breather for 6 months, if nothing else.

If it works out, you have avoided the risk of no income and probably would look at the next 5-7 years with less revulsion. If it doesn't work out you might decide you're just not cut out to practice law, and seek a mid-life change. In any case, you'll have a salary, benefits and a degree of security not afforded by a self-supported sabbatical.
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Old 08-04-2008, 04:26 PM   #15
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When you return from your sabbatical it is possible (or likely?) that you will find your unhappiness and angst have not diminished, and everything is just the same.

At that point you will be in the same situation as you are now, but a couple of years farther from ER.

Food for thought.

Maybe it is time to examine the opportunities that may arise for other employment. Or, maybe you can make it through a few more years, first.
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Old 08-04-2008, 10:23 PM   #16
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What if you take less time and use it to go traveling, let say 4-6 months. Most employers respond positively if you take time off for traveling. It's really an eye opener.
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Old 08-05-2008, 12:11 PM   #17
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As someone who's sat on hiring committees in a couple of organizations I would say that sabbaticals and leaves of absence will hurt you in a future job search. This is not a killer, but it is a factor. Still, if you are thinking this seriously about it, you should probably do something. If you take 6 months off, and then 6 months to find a new job, you will very likely have found something that you like a lot more than your current position. I've known a few people who've made dramatic job changes in mid-life, and they almost always are happy with the change.
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Some additional thoughts
Old 08-05-2008, 03:13 PM   #18
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Some additional thoughts

Here's my additional $.02 to add to the remarkable list of ideas that our group already generated.

1. Have you considered lowering your estimate of how much you need to live on in ER? Perhaps you could then compromise and only need to stay 3 more years, for example. That might be more palatable.

2. Consider looking for and accepting your next job now with the ironclad promise that you can delay taking the post for six months. Students do this all the time -- defer enrollment for a year, but after getting the offer of admissions.

Finally, I have to say that I share many of your feelings --and I began having them when I was 13 years from ER. I stuck it out (but changed employers and region of the country). Now, I'm down to 2.5 years and it seems at last reachable. In other words, being on the down side of the mountain now and knowing that I'm a "short timer" has freed me of much of my anxiety and misery about the job. It's amazing (and a little sad) to watch how my co-workers squabble over ownership and turf issues. So, your 6-7 more years of misery might be only 3 or 4 and then 2 or 3 of joyous anticipation.

I fill some of my off hours by making a calendar of everything I need to do in my final 28 months -- such as when to apply for private health insurance, when to get my Italian citizenship so that my wife and I can live in Italy half the year and have health insurance, how to be sure that I have a month's worth of vacation days (and no more) by the time I ER so that I can have a final month's pay for doing nothing. And so on. Also, I work on preparing myself for my many projects that will commence during ER. These things give me a place to go to when I'm feeling stressed and really do help.

Oh, one last final thought -- today's employers are realizing that it's not your father's employment market anymore. Flex time, time off for sabbaticals, etc. are a lot more common and acceptable if only because the youngest generation of workers are demanding them as part of a satisfying work life. More power to them!

Good luck with your deliberations. Keep us informed.

- BB
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Old 08-05-2008, 11:32 PM   #19
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Guys, first let me thank all of you for taking the time and energy to help me with my issue. I hope I can repay the favor to each of you over the months and years.

For the record, and for further background, the plan for the sabbatical would not be lounge around. There would be some of that, of course, but I would really dedicate it to: (i) long-neglected personal growth, (ii) certain health issues which I have allowed to deteriorate, (iii) doing some writing with the goal of publication, and (iv) making a firm decision as to what I want to do with the remainder of my professional life (whether that is 5 years or 20). I wish item (iv) were a little less vague, and it causes me no end of distress that I am nearly 41 and still trying to "find myself" like some kind of wayward college senior. But the truth is I need to really bear down on that issue and figure it out. I can't seem to do it when I am working, even when I try to work shorter hours. So I am gambling that the time off would force me to resolve the issue. If I don't, then I would have to slink back to something comparable to what I am doing now.

As I see it, this is the worst case scenario:

I don't figure out what my ideal job is, so I just slink back to something comparable to what I am doing now. My time off and my unemployed status does, in fact, hurt my resume and so it takes twice as long to return to the working world. My 6-12 month time off turns into 18 months or even, god forbid, 24 months. Then I go back and put in the 7 years until I hit the number for ER. That doesn't sound pleasant, but it is tolerable. I think the risk is worth it. (Of course, the real worst case scenario is that I become completely unemployable and can never find a comparable job, but I really don't think that is realistic. I am thinking that even if I ran into serious problems because of the sabbatical, I could still find something over the course of looking for a year.)

OK, so let's respond to the latest batch of posts:

SecondCor and MilitaryMan:

SecondCor, wow. I would really love to hear more about how you have been using your time. Our situations sound similar, except for the difference in fields. I appreciate MilitaryMan's attitude of "suck it up and stick it out." And I could do it. The job is not terrible or abusive. It just leaves me feeling empty. Well, one can endure emptiness for 5-7 years. But the thing is, if I follow that path, I may be approaching 50 before I even begin to do what I really should be doing. At that age, and with the full amount in hand for ER, I may not be motivated to start a new professional venture. Military, I respect your advice, even though I probably won't follow it. BTW, the 45K figure is for a full 12 months and includes a monthly COBRA payment. 6 months would be half of that. (I have always LBYM.)

Barnfellow:

That is a really interesting post. Is your wife Italian? If not, how do you plan to become an Italian citizen?

As far as reducing the $ needed for ER, check out my exchange with CaseInPoint from a few weeks ago. I was telling her that I think the approach should be one of reasoned conservatism: pad the number, protect against potential risks, but don't be unreasonable in trying to hedge every conceivable risk. The number I have in mind was developed with that approach, and I am loath to reduce it just to get out a few years earlier. I could do it, but that would cause me to lose the "padding" which I think is important. The recent surge in inflation only underscores the need for it.

I appreciate the thought about getting job with an ironclad promise that I wouldn't have to start in 6 mos. However, I am certain that I couldn't get that. Firms and corporations who hire fairly senior attorneys push them to start right away. (A friend of mine who just left a law firm to join a record label could barely get them to agree to give her 2 weeks transition.) When I got my current position, I did something like that. I got them to agree to 2 months. But even that was very unusual, and I was more junior then.

Bongo:

You are killing me here. To paraphrase your post: "It'll hurt you, but do it anyway." :-) That is tough to hear, but probably spot on. I am feeling I need to do this regardless. And the plan would be something along the lines of what you suggested. Something like 3-6 months of pure time off, followed by a "second half" in which I pursue a career option. Total time off could be 6-12 months total, with 9 months being the most likely.

Meadbh:

It is burnout for sure. After nearly 15 years, I am feeling it. And it is exascerbated by a sense that I am just marking time to earn a paycheck and move closer to ER. Now that I have 50-60% socked away (which is harder to save than the last 40%), it doesn't seem right to remain locked into that routine.
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Italian Citizenship
Old 08-06-2008, 07:20 AM   #20
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Italian Citizenship

I don't want to hijack your thread, but since you asked... Italy allows you to be recognized as an Italian citizen under certain circumstances. As long as you can show that you were technically born an Italian, then you can apply for the passport, etc. How do you do this? If your father/mother could be considered an Italian when you were born, then you can be considered as such. So, for many of us second gen Americans we need to show that when our father or mother was born, his/her father/mother had not yet been naturalized, thus keeping the link unbroken. The US allows dual citizenship and some other countries do this as well.

One advantage is that you have access to national health services, these are reciprocated in other EU countries, and you have more leeway w/ respect to banking, etc. while you are resident in Italy. Also, as long as you've been married for a certain length of time your spouse is covered automatically. Finally, those shorter EU lines at passport control while in Europe!

Our goal is to spend 4-6 months/year in Italy -- our favorite place to visit -- in early retirement and regular retirement.

Hope this helps.

-BB
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