Burned-out millennials are seeking alternative work lifestyles from career changes, living on the road, retiring early

One millennial put an engineering career on hold to be a sled dog musher.

For several weeks, Sarah Solomon’s office was a camper van she and her boyfriend rented as they cruised around New Zealand. Previously, her office was in Guatemala and it’s also been in Hawaii.

That’s because today, Solomon, 26, is able to work from anywhere in the world with her laptop and a Wi-Fi signal as a freelance publicist. But she didn’t start her career that way.

Two years ago, Solomon chose to leave an enviable job at a publicity firm in New York City and decided to pack up and hit the road.

“I started getting a little tired of just the same 9 to 5 routine every day getting up going to work… and just repeating it. And I was a little unhappy at my job,” she said. “So I started looking for other opportunities. And it was at this time that I came across the concept of a digital nomad which is someone who travels the world but they also make an income online.”

And now, she said she doesn’t know if or when she’s coming back.

“When I left New York City I said, ‘Oh go for a year, I'll travel for a year and then I'll come back and you know probably get a job again, but let me do this year digital nomad journey while I have the chance,” Solomon said. “It's obviously been longer than a year with no end in sight.”

She’s not alone. Solomon is part of a trend that some are calling “millennial burnout” – a generational shift that has many 20 and 30-somethings making life choices that prioritize fulfilling experiences over lucrative careers.

“One of the things that’s really interesting with this generation is that they’re digital natives,” said psychotherapist Robi Ludwig. “Someone in the past might have been stuck in their office, now can make a virtual office.”

Ludwig also noted that millennials seem to “have an idealized image of what their life should look like.”

“And they don’t want to settle for less,” she continued. “They really are a very self-aware generation that has been raised to ask the question why. ‘Why should I be working at this job I don’t like?’… It’s important to be happy and to pay attention to your well-being also contributes to the choices they will make.”

Nathan Kryzinski, 24, deferred a future in civil engineering for a life on the Alaskan frontier as a sled dog musher.

“I went to school for six years. A lot of time spent sitting down in the library,” Kryzinski said. “After all that was finally said and done, [I] kind of ready for something different a change of pace … I wanted to do something different, take a little detour.

Kryzinki said mushing dogs in Alaska seemed to have everything he wanted in terms of being outside in nature, in the fresh air and “some scenic views travel.”

He doesn’t ascribe to the stereotype of a lazy millennial, but instead he said he believes “life is short” and he wants to do things that make him happy.

“I would identify as a hyper-motivated millennial,” he said. “I think I’m going to be able to sustain this until I plan on pursuing that engineering field and luckily engineering is as a field that pays good money and it seems to have been pretty stable in all sorts of economies… and I'm looking forward to it.”

Planning for the future while pursuing an alternative lifestyle to the typical 9-to-5 is something Tanja Hester knows intimately.

In 2017, Hester retired -- at age 38. She said she and her husband Mark, 41, who retired the same year, have already saved up enough money to live on for the rest of their lives. They now spend their days hitting the ski slopes.

“I hope to never have a traditional job again,” Hester said. “This year, I wrote a book. I write my blog… I do a podcast. All of those things look like work but there are things that are passion projects for me… It doesn't feel like work.”

Hester, the author of “Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way,” and her husband, retired from their stressful political consulting jobs by sticking to a strict budget, allowing them to maximize their retirement accounts.

“We were able to kind of constrain our lifestyle and not inflate it year over year as a lot of people do as you earn more and really focus on earning more banking or raises,” she said.

Most people who achieve early retirement do so by saving aggressively for several years – at least 50 percent of their income after tax.

Hester is a success story out of what’s known as the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement, though some critics say the movement is unrealistic and dangerous. Naysayers warn that without padding that 401K over time, workers considering retiring early could set themselves up for trouble later in life.

“When patients come to me I ask them to look at what it is they’re doing that’s not working for them and is it something that can be changed within the job, is it smart and wise to leave a job before you have something else and a plan in place, can they afford to make that switch? A lot of it has to do with finances. If someone doesn’t have the finances, they can’t make that extreme switch,” Ludwig said.

Hester acknowledged that what she and her husband were able to achieve isn’t a reality for most people.

“The truth is that we earned good incomes we earned a little bit more than we needed. We don't have children… it was really just letting time do the work,” she said. “From the time that we decided to retire early until we actually did it was about six years… we definitely saved very quickly and aggressively in that time.”

For those who want to attempt the FIRE movement, Hester recommends three tips to get you started: Be mindful of your expenses and cut out extra spending that doesn’t bring you happiness, focus on increasing your take-home pay every year and when you get raises, don’t spend the new money you’re earning, but instead put it into a retirement account.

Hester has blogged about her journey to financial independence. Now she focuses most of her retirement hosting financial literacy workshops for women. She recently held her inaugural FIRE seminar for women in Aurora, Colorado, and plans for more this year in other cities. She does charge a small fee, but said it's only to cover the cost of hosting the seminars.

One of the hurdles she said women need to overcome is the wage gap.

“We know that women on average earn about 70 percent of what men earn,” she said. “We know that women make up by far the bulk of minimum wage earners in most states. So women are coming at this a little bit lower down the hill in many cases.

“I think women can do everything financially that men can do,” Hester continued. “But it does take us kind of getting over all of the socialization we've received that tells us that this isn't for us this is for them. No, this is for us too.”

Kara Perez, one of the women who attended Hester’s workshop, said she found it helpful because not only did she learn more about how to manage her finances but she also felt like she wasn’t alone.

“Financial literacy isn't something we teach in schools. It's not something many parents feel comfortable talking about or even have themselves. So I don't blame anyone, including myself for not having, the perfect financial know how at 18 years old,” she said.

Hester hosts her workshops because she said she wants to share what worked for her with others. She believes financial independence shouldn’t be exclusive to the wealthy or the highly educated.

“I feel like one of the luckiest people who's ever lived,” she said. “I think the real power here was just in creating a place for people to come together.”

“For me it's not about that I want to sit at home and sip umbrella drinks,” Hester continued. “It's that I want to be able to help make the world better and make this accessible to as many people as possible.”