STOKING THE FIRE
JEN YIH TOOK ‘EARLY RETIREMENT’ AT 25 YEARS OLD TO SET OFF TRAVELLING
AND SURFING AROUND THE WORLD. HERE’S HOW SHE DID IT.
It was another Wednesday morning…
As usual I woke at 6.30am, hit my snooze button, scrolled through exotic places on instagram, rushed to get dressed, drove down the same street, passed the same people, took the same flight of stairs to my office, sat all day at the same desk, drinking the same coffee.
I was only 24 years-old when I landed what I thought was my dream job. But when I turned 25 and a few other ‘dream job’ scenarios started to come into the picture, I questioned whether or not it was truly my dream or someone else’s. Then came the spiral of questions:
What am I doing?
What is the point?
What is my purpose?
I felt like life had played some sort of sick joke on me, telling me from a young age to follow my heart, yet there I sat at a desk staring at a screen for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I looked around me and everyone else seemed to be just fine with our screen dwelling routine.
As the downward spiral continued I really began to self-loath. I wasn’t practicing what I wanted to be preaching. So, I had no choice. I gave the company that I love and respect a two-month notice and started to downsize everything I owned. I didn’t know what I was packing for but as I browsed the Internet and threw a few darts at the map, I booked my first one-way ticket to Portugal, then Morocco, then the UK, then Iceland, Mexico, then, then Indonesia, and the list goes on.
When you start leaking to the world and your community that you’re going to ‘take off’ for a little while to maybe surf, or ski, or hike, or camp, or write or paint or [insert passion project you’ve been putting off here], the suggestions, people, and places start to naturally roll in. I didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it, but something felt more right about this departure than any of my other options.
So here I am on day 58 and counting since leaving my job, living off of my savings account, homeless, and jumping on the next train, plane, or bus to a new place in the world. Every single one of those days has been completely different, whether it has been in a new country with new food, a new language, a new culture, or new friends. I joked via my social media accounts, coining the term “optin homelessness” when I found myself sleeping on a mattress under the stars in an off-the-grid bungalow in Baja California, Mexico. But it hit me with a brick wall, this wasn’t homelessness (and that’s a little insensitive), this was temporary retirement.
Retirement the way our grandparents and parents have been doing it has really worked out for them, but when you tell a Millennial that social security
won’t even be around by the time we’re ready to retire around 65-years-old, why wait? I came to the agreement with myself that I’d rather run around the world to chase the sun and surf while I’m young, nimble and energetic, rather than when I’m almost 70 years-old with a fading memory and physical ability. In my old age, I figured, I’ll be much more at ease with resting my old, tired, well-used bones at a desk staring at a screen with my bifocals on and taking care of business. I’ll also be so old, wise and resilient that the stresses of business and finances will be a thing of the past, because we all know, by then, that everything always works out.
So for me, here’s what temporary retirement looks like:
1. You can go places alone, re-enforcing your
2. You can spend five days back-to-back surfing the Portuguese coast or a remote island in
Asia because you’ve spent time getting to know the local people and they’ve shown you the secret spots.
3. You spend time with your family. Instead of only having two weeks vacation, you can spend two full weeks with your parents, who aren’t getting any younger.
4. You help your friends out when they need it.
You’re not too busy or stressed or tired.
5. You eat only when you’re hungry and food
becomes fuel for your fun.
6. You’re allowed to be bored. You’ve heard it
before, but boredom breeds creativity.
7. You get to watch the sunset and the sunrise. 8. You can do more of what you love and chase those childish dreams you once had to be a writer or a surfer or a photographer, and go to bed with a smile on your face as you remember who you are.
9. You have real meaningful conversations.
10. You become a better version of yourself when you give yourself time to remember what’s really important.
Sometimes we need to slow down to catch up.
I’m not an advocate of being lazy or not working or checking out – we need to contribute and participate, not only for our own wellbeing, but for the betterment of our communities, society and future. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve felt a shift in the way things are today. It has been a go-go-go world and those expectations we had many years ago for where we would be at 25 yearsold are shattered because we’re waking up and questioning the status quo. We know that money, the big house, the shiny car aren’t the keys to happiness; we’re smarter than that – but let’s stop getting distracted by what everyone else is doing and focus up.
I am an advocate of putting down your phone and putting your money where your ‘likes’ are. Let’s not wait until we’re old to enjoy the world and what it has to offer. Since leaving on this selffunded world tour, many questioned how I was affording to travel. There are heaps of blogs out there that are giving you information about secret airline websites, credit card hacks and so on, but here’s the truth. And no I didn’t cash out my 401k. Here’s how I did it:
1. I worked HARD for three years at jobs that
challenged me as a creative.
2. I pinched pennies every single day.
3. I put my time in at a desk job.
4. I stopped buying food, drinks, things for people
and invested in experiences together.
5. I didn’t live in an expensive apartment decorated with expensive things; instead I shared a house with people I truly wanted to be with.
6. I sold almost everything I owned at resale shops & garage sales, stripping my life down to the essentials and embraced a minimalist lifestyle. 7. Most of the activities I truly love are free or incur an expensive start-up cost, then become relatively free after that: surfing, skiing, hiking, running, climbing, yoga, camping etc.
8. I love Alaska Airlines and all of their partners
(as a person that lives on west coast USA), because once you hit Gold MVP status, your bags (oversized bags including skis and surfboards) fly for free, they have awesome partnerships with other airlines, you get a buddy pass every year, and every $1 you spend on your Alaska card = 1mile. I just bought a ticket to Bali for $29 and 50k miles via Alaska and Emirates. Which makes loyalty to a credit card or airline a good idea. 9. Lastly, after stacking a small pot of gold, I resisted the temptation to buy a house (even though I felt pressured to as a future investment) or that new Volkswagen I was eyeing. And lastly, I pulled the ripcord! I realised I could budget out three months of lavish living abroad, to 6-8 months of low-budget backpacking, or choose somewhere right in the middle.
10. I chose the places carefully based on my passions and a few places that might push me out of my comfort zone. Paris is wonderful, but what do I have to learn from it? There are a few things I really love and feel inspired by, and I decided to chase after a few destinations that might offer experiences that really... ‘stoke my fire’.
Mostly I realised that the things we really want in life never come easy and will require some sacrifice. If I’ve learned anything, all I can say to you is get to work, start saving, selling and downsizing so you can go live your life freely and beautifully.