In 2011, Rachael O’Meara had worked her way into management at Google, responsible for leading a team of 11 customer-support reps. Her job had all the markings of a successful career, but she was unhappy … and so was her boss. Performance reviews weren’t good, and her manager bluntly told her that she had to change in order to be successful at Google.
“I felt like I was putting all this effort in wanting to succeed, but it wasn’t working,” she recalls. “How did I go from being a confident, successful woman, achieving promotions and praise to what felt like a floundering failure?”
Instead of choosing to quit or waiting to be let go, O’Meara opted to put her career on a three-month pause. “I wasn’t in a mental place to know what I wanted next,” she says. “I was so concerned about failure and doing poorly. The path I was on clearly wasn’t working. I wanted to learn what would make me feel more satisfied and be happy.”
At the time, Google was among 15% of companies that offer employees the chance to take an unpaid sabbatical, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. O’Meara thought the break would be just what she needed to figure things out.
What She Did
With 90 responsibility-free days ahead of her, O’Meara created a plan that would make the most of her time. The knee-jerk reaction might have been to travel the entire time, but O’Meara felt self-reflection was the better path.
“I love to travel, but I knew that was a trap I could fall into where I was distracted and not focused on myself,” she says. “I wanted introspection, allowing myself the space for whatever was bubbling up to rise.”
O’Meara set up rules and structure. She would be out of the house by 10 a.m. every day, only checking email during a 30-minute timeframe. She started journaling, took classes like Bikram yoga and salsa dancing that pushed her outside of her comfort zone, and got a part-time job as a bicycle tour guide. She learned how to meditate, studied leadership development and received a coaching certificate. O’Meara also identified her strengths through assessments and asking for feedback.
“The key is to maintain a growth mind-set,” she says. “If you do this, everything becomes an opportunity.”
O’Meara, who chronicles the experience in her book Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break, says the pause left her feeling calmer and clearer, and better able to connect with people on a personal level. “Before I was so busy ticking off to-do lists and hoping I wasn’t going to get in trouble that day,” she says. “I went back feeling rejuvenated and being present with people, doing things like making eye contact and caring about how someone’s day was going. And I didn’t feel like a failure.”
She also decided to go back to Google, but in a new job. “The role I wanted was in a sales capacity, and I became very determined to find that job,” says O’Meara, who is now a senior account manager. “I set an intention to have 10 interviews a week at Google.”
Do You Need A Pause?
A pause is any intentional shift in behavior that allows you the space to experience a mental shift in attitude, thoughts, or emotions that otherwise would not have occurred, says O’Meara. “We all need to pause from time to time,” she says, sharing five signs that you’re due:
- If you used to love your job and now you loathe it.
- If your boss tells you things aren’t working out.
- If you’re constantly distracted by your phone or social media.
- If you’re facing a challenge or adversity.
- If an opportunity comes knocking on your door that you want to follow.
Luckily, you don’t need to take a three-month sabbatical to make a difference. “A pause could mean taking a class, up-leveling your business, getting better something, or saying a truth that may not have been said before,” O’Meara says. “The whole idea is to connect to self. If you had an extra five minutes or an hour, what could you do differently? What would you say? Who would you be with? Those are great cues about what would work for you.”
Start by building pauses into your day, suggests O’Meara. “We constantly shift and go into autopilot,” she says. “Take a few minutes to journal how you feel. Your mood improves when you consciously bring thoughts into the moment.”
Consider taking a digital device pause, checking in with yourself instead of your smartphone, asking, “Am I okay? Is this where I want to be?”
During your pause, tune out others and focus on yourself. “Society tells us, ‘Don’t slow down,’ and along the way we’ve forgotten to care for ourselves,” says O’Meara. “You’ve got to take care of yourself to be the best self you can be.”