Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break

Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break

by Rachael O'Meara


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Feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or stuck? Discover the power of the pause.
Sometimes life throws you for a loop. You’re stressed out at your job; you’re torn between work and family; your motivation and productivity are taking a nosedive. Your impulse might be to lean in and tough it out, but what you may really need to do is take a step back. Reassess your life with a clear head and dive back in with purpose and poise. In this enlightening book, Rachael O’Meara guides you through the steps of your own pause journey:

- The signs that you’re in need of a meaningful break
- Planning your optimal pause—whether it’s as short as a day or as long as an epic journey
- Reentering the world with renewed clarity and purpose.

Incorporating the latest findings from psychology and neuroscience and peppered with inspiring stories of successful pauses, this book will show you that the fastest way to happiness is to slow down. Whether you pause by taking a five-minute walk outside, spending a day unplugged from digital devices, or taking a few weeks off to yourself, Pause will give you the tools to find what “lights you up” and the ability to lead the most satisfying and fulfilling life you choose.

As seen in The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143129240
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,140,724
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Rachael O’Meara is a transformation leadership and executive coach, assisting others to fulfill their potential. She is a sales executive at Google and also hosts authors who have meaningful messages about mindfulness and emotional intelligence for the TalksAtGoogle YouTube channel.  
Her book Pause was named one of 2017's top business books for your career and was featured in the New York Times and on She is certified in Transformational Coaching from the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential (ICF certified), and has an MBA from Fordham University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Training for Peak Performance

To be yourself in a world

that is constantly trying to make you something

else is the greatest accomplishment.


I began my BUSINESS CAREER in the fall of 1995. For threeyears I lived right across from beautiful, historic Prospect Park in WindsorTerrace, Brooklyn. Every morning I commuted one hour into Midtown Manhattan.There the skyscrapers kissed the sky and tourists craned their necks to see howfar a building climbed. My office was housed at the same address as Radio CityMusic Hall, the same place that the leggy Rockettes called home. Next door wasRockefeller Center and my favorite spectacle, the Rockefeller Center iceskating rink. My lunch hours were filled watching skaters glide by the goldenstatues. I felt injected with inspiration. I had launched myself into the orbitof international business. I dwelled in the heart of New York City, at the ageof twenty-three. On all counts, I had “made it.”

  Despite thissuccess, I felt like something was lacking in my daily routine. Every night Icame home feeling unfulfilled. At a certain point, the routine of riding the Ftrain, stepping into my office, spending weekends partying away my hard-earnedcash, and coming home to an apartment full of roommates didn’t seem all thatrewarding. I felt like I had more I was meant to do. Something was missing.

  The followingspring, I signed myself up for a rowing club, a lifelong passion and sport Ihad excelled at before moving to New York. I found myself gunning for thenational team, rowing daily in the quiet dawn for the New York Athletic Club.We’d meet the sun and watch the morning sky unfold in velvet stripes of pinksand yellows. Without even knowing it, I found my first pause in rowing. Ithappened between every stroke, in between breaths, and before, during, andafter my workout. As a rower, I paused all the time. Rowing taught me how to bepresent, no matter what was in store for me. I held on to that feelingthroughout my day, excited to do it all over again the next morning.

  Falling back inlove with rowing helped me realize that I wanted more out of my working life. Iwanted to feel the same passion in the office. I realized I longed to join theburgeoning Internet industry and found a new job at a promising start-up calledDoubleClick.

  Fast-forward afew years. Once again, I found myself longing for more. I transferred to theSan Francisco DoubleClick office after ten years in New York City. It was timefor a change. I was fixated on the city’s beauty, lifestyle, and technologyhub. Three years later, Google acquired the company. All seemed well on boththe career and the personal front. I met my boyfriend Doug nine months after Imoved to San Francisco. A few months later I bonded with a small group ofgirlfriends from a women’s leadership class who became lifelong allies. Mysuccess was now bicoastal. I felt grateful and content to live the life I hadcreated.

  My lifestylecontinued this way for five years. But I was hungry for a new challenge atwork. Like so many other newly minted MBAs, I wanted to manage people. I wantedto make a difference in not just the work I was doing, but in other people’slives. I decided to go after a job to manage a customer support team workingwith advertisers on one of the company’s flagship products.

Hitting a Wall

After six months leading a customer support team thatranged in size from four to eleven people, I hit a wall in my performance. Ireceived feedback from my new supervisor that I wasn’t up to par and needed tobe a better communicator, listener, and manager. I began to question mydecision to take on an unfamiliar role. I was confused about what successlooked like at my job. For the first time in my corporate career I wasreceiving consistent feedback that my performance was poor and that I needed tochange in order to be successful at Google.

  What had happenedto me? After all my success, what had gone wrong? After two years at Google,was it time to leave? How did I go from being a confident, successful woman,achieving promotions and praise year after year, to what felt like afloundering failure? Around this time, I began experiencing relationshiptrouble with Doug, who was now my boyfriend of five years. Neither of us couldseem to move forward in our relationship. We were stuck.

  Call it a midlifecrisis of sorts, but I was miserable, lackluster, and beaten on all counts. Ididn’t know where to turn, but I knew I was in trouble. I felt a complete lack ofpurpose or direction. I felt unmotivated at work and, on some level, in mypersonal life. Commitment seemed to be my stumbling block, whether it wascommitting to one specific career ladder or to creating a successfulrelationship with my boyfriend.

  I was burned outfrom trying so hard in this new and challenging capacity. I took all the Googletraining sessions I could, but I was told I lacked strong communication skillsand “executive presence.” I wasn’t driving results for our team projects as muchas I should. I missed the mark on executing ideas and contributing to ourlarger management team. I received the feedback over the course of severalmonths, with no marked improvement.

  I was drowning inmy own negative self-talk. I wasn’t sure I’d ever meet expectations in the eyesof my managers. I felt as stuck at work as I did in my personal relationship. Ineeded to bring my team to the next level. I longed to provide direct andconstructive feedback to my team. I didn’t know how to do it. I felt like afailure. It wasn’t unusual for me to leave work at night only to cry during mydinner conversations with Doug.

  My mental statewas a mess. My confidence evaporated a little more every day. I felt like mywheels were spinning. I knew that a change was inevitable. My boss conveyedthis to me one spring morning. Perplexed and tired, I sat there with Margaretin our cold, sterile conference room. She explained to me how things “justweren’t working out” despite numerous reviews to assess what needed to changein my demeanor, work, and effort. What I heard was, “Rachael, you are amiserable failure. Please exit the building immediately.”

  Margaret gave mea choice that day. I could find a new role before things got ugly, or I couldstay in the position and continue to receive subpar performance reviews, likelyuntil I was let go. I would receive a ninety-day improvement plan intended toget me back on track. Both seemed like unfortunate options. I left the roomdiminished. I felt misunderstood. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort ordesire that things weren’t working out well. I had to report back with a planthe following week. How could I possibly make any decision in my frenziedmental state?

  I left work thatday depressed and bewildered as to how I’d gotten so off track. Before my roleas a support manager, I had been told I was a high performer. How had I gottenso bad at my job? How had things gone so terribly wrong despite my efforts tobe successful? Peddling home that Friday, I wondered if I should quiteverything that Monday. I asked myself if I should start job-hunting over theweekend. Should I aim for a new job at Google with my tarnished credibility andbruised ego? I went back and forth, stoplight by stoplight, flipping betweenthese two options. I was not in a healthy mental position to look for a newjob, regardless of what company or position it was. The voice inside me knewthat much. Something needed to change, but I didn’t know what.

  That Saturday, ISkyped with two of my best girlfriends, Kathleen and Sue. As I explained mydebacle, I pondered something out loud. “Google has a sabbatical program,” Itold them. “Maybe I should take that.”

  On the other end,there was silence. I didn’t know if there was a delay in the video streaming orif the silence was deliberate. Almost in unison, my friends agreed that was agreat idea. Sue filled my head with suggestions to come visit her, hang out onthe beach, go to Europe, and indulge in some well-deserved downtime. Sheconvinced me that these were all ideas worth exploring.

  “You know, Rach,my old boss, who I consider a mentor, once asked me what I would do if I knew Iwasn’t going to fail,” Sue said.

  “I definitelywouldn’t be in this job!” I laughed back.

  Sue explained.“It means you shouldn’t worry about failing. Let yourself figure out what todo, knowing that whatever you decide, failure won’t be considered failureunless you think of it like that.”

  I sat in silence,absorbing her insightful feedback.

  While my friendsencouraged me not to think of my job as a failure, the thought of taking aleave of absence lingered. Though it required approval from management, and Iwouldn’t get paid, I could keep my benefits. This was the permission slip I waswaiting for. I could reboot and regroup on next steps.

Time to Take a Pause

I spent the rest of my weekend daydreaming about my plan.Ninety days! I felt a sense of duty to reclaim myself. I had a renewed sense ofpurpose. I could shift gears and find a new role at Google or elsewhere. Ithought about the tempting urge to “check out” and do absolutely nothing. Icould take my time to figure out what I really wanted to do, and then go do it.I could rebuild my confidence that I so desperately needed to find again. MaybeI’d travel. It all seemed possible, and for the first time in weeks I wassmiling. I had the financial resources to enjoy unpaid leave thanks to myfrugal upbringing and those scrappy days living on meager wages in Brooklyn. Ihad a decent amount of cash stashed away for a rainy day. This was my rainyday.

  All I needed wasmy supervisor, Margaret, to give me the green light. I pitched my idea clearlyand with earnest openness. “I think the best thing for me to do at this pointis to apply for an extended leave. I’ve researched Google’s policy on leaves ofabsence and think this is the best option for me. I feel too burned out to makeany sound career decisions. I need to regroup. I’d like your approval to take aninety-day unpaid break from Google.”

  She promised totalk to her managers and make sure everyone was on board with the plan. Shealso threw out her terms. We agreed that I wouldn’t return to my current role.I’d spend the next six weeks looking for my replacement, training him or her,and wrapping up my projects. My new adventure—my new life—would begin Junefirst.

  I felt like aeuphoric schoolgirl, scheming my plan for summer. The idea of having ninetydays to figure out my next big career move was a godsend. I wasn’t ready foranything else mentally, physically, or emotionally.

  I knew there wassomething bigger and better for me ahead. I had a spring in my step. I had aplan, even though I had no idea what to plan. I would no longer be miserable orstuck in my negative thought patterns. I was happy again, for the first time inas long as I could remember. I was on my way to saying good-bye to struggle,failure, and disappointment.

Practice of Pause Moments:

Chapter 1

At the end of each chapter there is a section thatincludes questions and exercises called “Practice of Pause Moments.” I suggestwriting out your responses and insights. Designate a journal (or what I call apausebook) for your ongoing insights that emerge from pausing.

Follow Your Breath

I recommend practicing this exercise before eachchapter’s Practice of Pause Moments. I suggest making this part of your dailyroutine. Experiment with what timing works for you. Use this practice of pauseso you can have an easy, intuitive way to shift your state of being. Bring itinto your life in whatever way works: before you get up in the morning, whileyou eat your breakfast, or in the car. It is one of the most powerful tools youcan use to create a moment of pause.

  Find a comfortableand quiet place where you can focus and sit down. If you are in a chair, sit upstraight with your spine straight and both feet rooted firmly on the ground. Ifyou are on the ground, sit cross-legged or on a pillow with your pelvis raisedslightly higher than your legs.

      1.    Close your eyes and focus solely on yourbreath.

      2.    Take a deep, relaxing breath. Inhale throughyour nose for a count of five seconds. Exhale through your mouth, and count toseven in a steady rhythm. Do this for five breaths. Place your hand over yourbelly if you want to focus more on it as you feel your diaphragm rise and fall.

      3.    After the first five breaths, on your nextinhale say to yourself or out loud, “I am present.”

      4.    Inhale. On your next exhale say to yourselfor out loud, “I listen to my inner voice to truly know what’s best for me.”

      5.    For the next thirty seconds focus on yourbreathing, alternating these two phrases. Don’t worry about how long it takes.If you feel your body and mind settle in and relax, you’ll know you’ve doneenough. If you are restless, simply return to your counting breaths. Refrainfrom judgment; simply notice your breath.

      6.    Notice your body and the sensations oremotions that arise. In your journal write down your observations or what youexperienced. Aim to write nonstop for three to five minutes.


Excerpted from "Pause"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Rachael O'Meara.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Judith Wright, PhD ix

Introduction xiii

Chapter 1 Training for Peak Performance 1

Chapter 2 Five Signs You Need a Pause 11

Chapter 3 Taking the Pause Plunge 37

Chapter 4 The Arc of Mental Flossing 59

Chapter 5 The Pause Dashboard: Money, Time, and Activity 75

Chapter 6 The Daily Pause 89

Chapter 7 The Digital Device Pause 109

Chapter 8 The Extended Pause 125

Chapter 9 Creating Your Pause Playground 143

Chapter 10 Tips for a Meaningful Pause 159

Chapter 11 Reentry Postpause 189

Chapter 12 Pausing as a Way of Life 209

Notes 215

Further Resources 221

Gratitude 225

Index 228

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