Rachael O'Meara's career went into a tailspin five years ago, when the 38-year-old customer-service manager at Google realized her performance was not up to par. She wasn't communicating well, lacked managerial presence and was losing confidence while trying unsuccessfully to change. The pressures were propelling her toward burnout.
Sharing her concerns one weekend with some friends, she found herself talking about Google's sabbatical plan and the urge to press "pause" on her career and take time to regain her bearings. It worked, as she returned to a new and more suitable post and now has become an evangelist for pauses – from the 30-second meditative pause you could take after reading this article to day-long, weekend-long and, yes, months-long sabbaticals that refresh.
"If you allow yourself time to pause, it can be life-changing. Everyone can pause. It's about finding what works for you," she says in an interview. "It can be a walk around the park, but with intention."
The words "with intention" come up regularly as the author of Pause talks about her ideas.
Her sabbatical was not a vacation (although she did squeeze in three short trips). She created structure so she didn't become indolent, ensuring she was out of the house every day by 10 a.m. She took courses, kept a journal and thought about the issues occurring in the workplace. She was careful not to plan too much, as that might divert her from focusing on her career dilemma. She also limited herself to 30 minutes a day for online activities. "That was a big one. I didn't waste two hours at a time on social media or e-mail," she says.
She highlights five signs that you may need a pause. First would be an indication that while you used to love your job, now you loathe it. Second, the boss tells you things are not working out. Third, an intervention – somebody, or something – indicates you are spending too much time plugged into work and forgetting other important facets of life. Fourth, a major life event, challenge or change happens. Finally, a new opportunity reveals itself.
In considering a pause of some length, three interlinked issues crop up: Money, time and what activity to pursue. First inevitably is whether you can afford the break, if it involves reduced income. "There is a myth that you need a lot of money to pause. That's not true," she insists. You could even figure out how to devote part of each day to your reflective break while earning some money.
Any time frame will work. You could try one night a week to put some distance between you and work, refreshing; take a class to follow a passion; or meet with friends. The activity – the intention as action – is, of course, critical. And again, the choices are wide, from a travel tour to a staycation to a museum visit. It's a case of tuning into your deepest desires. One way to do that is to check what images come to mind when you reflect on those yearnings. If you're stymied about moving forward, consider which of the three elements – money, time and activity – are easiest to change with a little more creativity or planning.
But don't forget the daily pauses available to you. She's a big believer in belly breathing: Sit straight in a chair, feet on the floor, a hand on your belly and breathe in and out slowly, staying aware of your body through feeling your stomach. Count when you inhale and exhale, until 10, at which point you may choose to start again.
If she can't meditate in the morning, she substitutes the five-senses pause, while brushing her teeth, showering, or walking down the street. Tune in to the moment, notice what is going on around you: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? How do your feet feel in contact with the ground (or seat in contact with a chair)? What emotions do you feel? Where do you feel that in your body?
Digital-device pauses are also critical these days. Try it for an hour one day – or an hour every day. Perhaps a full day or weekend is possible. Set up a digital-free room, such as your bedroom, where cellphones, tablets and TVs are banned.
Pause, with intention, to rejuvenate and even redirect your career.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter