No matter what you are doing, stop. And if you are not doing anything, as is usually the case, start. Then you’ll have something to stop, which is what you must do.
You must take a break. You must unplug yourself from the demands of your job. You must, in a word, take a “pause.”
Pause is not my word, and it’s not my idea, either. Those honors belong to Rachael O’Meara, who recently wrote a book and a column on the subject for The New York Times.
O’Meara’s homily is titled, “Instead of Leaving a Job, Why Not Take a Pause?” The question stems from the columnist’s time at Google, where she was a client services manager. Any employment at Google may seem like a dream job, with its status and growth potential, not to mention the hot and cold running stock options. Alas, for her, the dream had turned into a nightmare.
“I was miserable,” she writes. “My ‘think about work’ mental switch was permanently on, and I couldn’t find the off switch. I was constantly thinking about the next email to send, or on my laptop or phone tackling my to-do list. I was lost in my own world, missing everything.”
(Too bad we were not available to point out the location of the off switch. It’s right under your desk, Rachael, a convenient nap space where you can turn off, tune out, and hide out from the demands of marauding managerial zombies.)
As it turns out, Google “is one of a minority of companies that offer unpaid leaves of absence not related to family or medical issues.”
In fact, most companies do indeed offer an unpaid leave of absence. It’s called “unemployment,” but let’s not quibble. The author took a three-month pause and, in doing so, changed her attitude and her life.
It might surprise you to learn that there’s more to pausing than stopping work. You also have to start following a whole new set of rules. To me, these rules sound rather draconian. O’Meara “made it a requirement to shower once a day, make my bed and get out of the house at 10 a.m.”
No boss ever made you take a shower every day. This worked very much in your favor, since the more infrequent your showers, the more infrequent the visits from managers and co-workers.
Another self-imposed demand during the pause was “to spend an hour a day outside the house doing something I enjoyed, like yoga and hiking.” This would not be easy for you. As a master of a type of Iyengar, or furniture yoga, called Barcolounger yoga, a hike for you is the trek from the feet-extended, eyes-shut, snoring-softly pose all the way to the fridge for snacks.
Finally, O’Meara “made sure to spend no more than 30 minutes at a time on my computer.” This seems extreme, though scientists do tell us you need to take a one-minute break every six hours you spend on the computer. If not, you could develop Lazy Thumb Syndrome, and then would never be able to help Takkar defeat the flesh-eating Udan tribes people in “Far Cry Primal.”
A high price to pay, if you ask me, for your selfish little pause.
After three months of pausing, Rachael O’Meara returned to Google with a new job and a new attitude. She now believes that such sabbaticals reduce stress and increase job satisfaction.
I’m not so sure.
I do embrace the idea of a pause, but for people whose idea of job success is to do as little work as possible for as much money as possible, the only type of pause that would produce positive results requires starting, not stopping work.
That’s right! For three months, you will be the kind of employee your manager wants. You will get to work early and leave late. You will meet deadlines and deliver work product that is insightful, thoughtful and useful. You will not gripe or gossip or snigger uncontrollably at staff meetings.
In short, you will become the perfect employee. For exactly three months. Not one day more. Then, when you return to your wildly imperfect self, you will feel refreshed and reborn, once again, totally focused on how to avoid work.
Best of all, you’ll have reminded yourself why, for you, divorcing yourself from work is much more than a trendy, unpaid, three-month mind game. It’s a way of life.
And you get paid.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.