Is it time for you to pause your career?
It’s so easy to get caught up in our own competition. We strive to work harder and longer every day, trying to get to the highest levels of our performance. Then just when we think we’re getting closer to excellence, things start to slip, and balls start to drop. Why? Because you’re hurtling towards a burn out. But there’s a way to avoid this dangerous cycle, and it involves finally giving yourself a break.
Rachael O’Meara is an executive at Google and a transformational leadership coach. Her new book is Pause: Harnessing the Life-Giving Power of Giving Yourself a Break. I recently interviewed Rachael for the LEADx Podcast, where we talked about the ‘work till you drop’ mentality and how to avoid fizzling out. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: You talk about having to take a break before while working at Google, for fear of burn-out. How did that work?
Rachael O’Meara: In my particular case—and everyone is different—I had to get approvals and everything like that. With my manager we negotiated to not go back to that role, because I don't think it was a fit for me. And the idea was that ideally I would return, but it still wasn't 100% sure. I really wasn't sure of anything at that moment. I was really in this cloudy fog. And I did end up coming back and I had a period of time, like a grace period, to find a new role. And I ended up finding a role in sales, which is what I do now, and that was because I actually took intention to learn about my strengths and really ask myself what was I good at? Because I really wasn't sure at that point.
And so that led me into thinking about new career paths into things like relationship management and explaining technology and helping people learn products. Those are the things that I already liked to do, but I hadn't really carved a career out in it.
Kruse: Take me a little deeper into that break. How did you spend the three months?
O’Meara: So this was back in 2011, and essentially what I did, I live in San Francisco, and I chose to actually not fill my plate with a lot of plans. I think one of the things we like to do is just, high-performing Type-As in general people who like to get stuff done, is to plan and be busy and do do do do do.
And I actually intentionally chose not to do that. And it wasn't by design, necessarily, at the time. But looking back on it now, I see how much that benefited me because it allowed me some space to kind of emerge into what was going on and see what my reality was, because like I said, my perspective was a little skewed and negative at the time. Like, “What am I doing? I'm a failure, why am I even in technology? Maybe I've got this all wrong!”
And it was taking that hard look at my career path and being okay with the fact that this may not have been the right choice for me and I might have to just totally change, course-correct. And I was willing to face that and, over time, realize that really did take courage. And it takes courage for all of us to look at that and just check-in and tune-in, which is a lot of what I did, at least for the first month to six weeks.
And then, I just did a couple online classes. I also set up some rules for myself, like a structure. So only spending 30 minutes online at a time for checking email. And this was a really big thing! I mean, you laugh, but the truth is digital devices are addictive, right? We all know we can be scrolling on our phones indefinitely. So I actually think pausing, which I call any intentional shift in behavior, can be integrated into daily life. Things like a digital device pause, where you create certain blocks of time or rules for yourself, are really important and can be some way to pause.
So I created some structure, but very loose brush-strokes of structure, and then allowed what was going to happen to happen. And that was kind of this fear of the unknown coming up for me. And that was a little scary, but at the same time, hugely rewarding because I really did learn a lot about myself without being distracted by things like going on a big trip, or coming up with all kinds of things to do everyday, because clearly, I needed some time to allow myself to figure out what was next for me.
Kruse: You're not saying that to pause is leaving work for three months, right? There's different ways we can pause.
O’Meara: Right, right. So you've got it. And the idea is that this can be incorporated into a lifestyle where you take daily pauses. And there's different types of pauses you can have. So for example, doesn't have to be some kind of extended pause. That was my case, but anyone can do this.
And the idea is that if you have even a single breath, which sounds really simple, but if you just sit in your chair and sit up a little straighter, maybe close your eyes or focus on your breath for one deep breath… Like exhaling here, that to me is a pause. It's a short one, but it's an intentional shift in behavior.
There are other ways to pause. There could be a forced pause. I talk about that where, unfortunately, there might be a layoff. And there could be a really big silver-lining for you, where this might be an opportunity to reassess where your path is going, or what you want to incorporate into your life.
So I have a whole bunch of daily pauses that I talk about where you can create what works for you. And again, it's based on your individual world, whether it's the time frame or the activity you want to do or the finances.
Pausing can be free. It doesn't need to cost money, it doesn't need to be a long amount of time.
Kruse: I think it makes you more productive, as well, taking these mini-pauses.
O’Meara: Yes. And I actually refer to this as the pause paradox. Totally what you're talking about where we value these things like productivity and profits. There's nothing wrong with that and I'm all for productivity, right? I want to achieve as well. But the idea is that if we want to be sustainable or have long term success, whether it's at home or in your career as a leader, wherever in your life, pausing really helps to build that in, to create that sustainability where you can enhance things like needed downtime, and creativity. I mean, there's research now, as probably a lot of us know, where even a wandering mind helps facilitate creative problem-solving. And distractions are actually good for us.
It's a mind shift in that we've been taught to produce in the Industrial Age and just go go go, but the reality is, in our world and what we're working towards now, that we're 24/7, 1,440 minutes in a day. This pausing is a necessity, but if we don't take advantage to choose to want it or create that for ourselves, the chances of burnout or exhaustion go higher. And I think more importantly, it's about leading a really meaningful and satisfied life.
And if you can pause to even appreciate that or check in and just say, “What am I wanting right now that isn't here? Or am I really on a path that serves me or where I want to go?” And if we don't choose to stop and pause for that, then we may miss that train altogether.
Kruse: For people trying to find their passion in whatever time they have, should they think through it or feel through it?
O’Meara: Yeah, and it could even be a weekend or a day, right? Like it can just be any amount of time that works. And so, what I think we're tapping into is emotional intelligence here, where we're looking at how emotions influence our decisions. So by all means, feeling is critical. And I think a really good skill to create and build is to pause and ask how you're feeling right now in this moment.
Like right now, I'm feeling joy because I'm sharing my message with you, Kevin. But I'm also a little tired because it's 6 a.m. here in San Francisco. So I'm like, maybe a little sad. So even just acknowledging that, and I'm not explaining myself or going into the why or anything, but that is a really big baseline for me to say, “Well, what can I do next that really helps me feel more satisfied or serves me to maybe express better?”
And so that's really the name of the game. If I'm in touch with my feelings and I'm just going to call it emotional intelligence, where you're self-aware and you're able to regulate what you're doing and motivate others and have empathy and social skills to lead, all of those things are emotional intelligence defined by Daniel Goldman, and all of those really start with how you're feeling in the moment. And mindfulness is really critical for that, meaning I can pause and just tune-in. And that's all this really is.
Kruse: I always ask our listeners to get a little bit better every single day. So I want you to challenge us. Give us one thing we can do today.
O’Meara: That's so cool, Kevin, I love this idea. So I would ask yourself, “What if?” The next time you find yourself in what I'll say is a ‘fixed mindset,’ and maybe you're like, “Nah, I don't have time. I don't have time to pause. Maybe it's pausing. I don't have this or that.”
This is a way to ask yourself, “What if? Well what if I had time?” And really reframe how that looks to you. And the idea is that you could step into new places, maybe have a new experience that would open you to even more new things.
And that's exactly what happened to me with pausing in that it really profoundly changed my world. And I'm thinking, “What if I could pause? And what would happen from there?”
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.