If you find that full-time, well-paid work is taking over your life, downshifting to a part-time role is a natural solution. Upon closer inspection, “downshifting” is not a single path, but a full menu of options for reducing time pressure and work-related stress, as well as freeing up time to let friends, family, and creativity back into your life.
Recently, I identified and contrasted several approaches to downshifting. This time, I’m going to describe the specific path I’ve chosen, along with my reasoning and the personal and professional context in which I made my selection.
Rather than just sticking it out at my current full-time job until I had enough to fully retire, I wanted to claim a little bit of my freedom sooner, to explore new possibilities (career, family, lifestyle). What better way to do this than to take a long, fully unencumbered break from work?
Sabbaticals are great for long-term, disruptive ventures, such as traveling full time, starting a new business or career, or fully immersing yourself in a new hobby or locale. The freedom of not having to hold down a job is, in the eyes of the judgy, work-obsessed populace, obscene because, unlike the more-commonly-sought-after latest gadget or fastest car, not working is actually the pinnacle of luxury. Or at least that is what I’ve deduced from reading comments on and responses to articles about early retirees.
In my case, however, I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to such a bold move. I’m not even sure I would enjoy traveling full-time. I like seeing new places, but I also like to know where I can buy groceries. And I also like sleep on the same ridiculously comfortable pillow top mattress every night.
Additionally, since my employer doesn’t really have a sabbatical program (well, it does, the program just sucks), if I wanted to take off more than about 6 weeks at once, I’d most likely need to resign completely. As much fun as it would be to cheerfully hand in my notice and wish all those poor remaining saps well, it could be stressful trying to find a new job at the end of the sabbatical, especially if the economy had just tipped into another recession (which, recently, has been about 15% of the time).
Having the looming threat of eventually needing to find a job would raise my baseline level of stress slightly. Worse, I would find it difficult to part with my hard-earned dollars (even while traveling) if I wasn’t earning an income.
These are certainly not universal constraints or concerns, but in my personal case a full-blown sabbatical is too risky for my taste.
Part-time work instead
Given my fairly risk-averse attitude, part-time work is appealing.
First off, I don’t have to find a new job or even train for a new role. All I have to do is just come into work less often. Clearly, that’s an oversimplification, and I have to convince my employer that this is a good idea, but it is still the least disruptive option.
Earlier, I mentioned my reluctance to splurge on amazing experiences when traveling if I didn’t have an income. Part-time work solves this problem by keeping the money spigot open, while expanding the time available to go on short trips with family and friends.
An additional benefit that I find difficult to articulate is that part-time work is highly compatible with developing positive habits. Some of my proudest accomplishments (e.g. being able to life more than my bodyweight, despite having the opposite of a weightlifter’s build) were the result of persistent, beneficial habits. Exercise, visiting family, and other routine activities are much easier to stick to when you’ve got an excess of free time–free time that downshifting provides.
As smitten with the idea of part-time work as I am, I try to stay realistic.
Part-time work doesn’t really open up a lot of travel or vacation opportunities beyond extending weekend trips. At my particular company, going part-time reduces my allotted vacation time commensurately, so I end up with the same number of weeks off (they just happen to be shorter weeks). While long trips aren’t any more accessible, my hope is that the temptation to take random days off (commonly referred to as “mental health days”) will be reduced, so I can focus my vacation more on big, possibly international trips.
My biggest concern with reducing my weekly schedule is, honestly, my overachieving temptation to end up working too much. Some days, I like the fact that, in my current job, I can finish up a few things from home or monitor some process on the bus, but I’ll have to establish firm work-life boundaries and stick to them for part-time work to be worthwhile (and not just a voluntary pay cut).
The deciding factor
Really, this whole decision boils down to one question: what do I value most?
If I craved exotic experiences and essentially unlimited time to explore the world, I’d probably go for a self-funded sabbatical.
In my case, I want to develop good habits, make incremental progress on personal projects, and spend more time being a true friend and helpful family member. Two extra days per week should do the trick.
Someday, I’d like to try living a life without work (even if temporary), but for now part-time work is my plan.