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Book review

December 2017

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

Author: Rachael O’Meara

Publisher: TarcherPerigee 

Finding time to meet with friends can seem increasingly difficult as we delve deeper into our careers, so when a gathering finally does come around, we really cherish those moments. Imagine yourself at one and finally being able to socialize after scheduling weeks in advance, but then your phone rings bearing a work-related call. You excuse yourself mid-conversation to speak in a quieter spot, and your friends continue with a shake of their heads – as if they had expected it.

If this kind of scenario is familiar, Rachael O’Meara’s Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break provides guidance on how to install several much-desired breaks into your lifestyle.

O’Meara defines a “pause” as any “intentional shift in behaviour that allows you the space to experience a mental shift in attitude, thoughts, or emotions that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.” Through the power of pause, individuals can tune in to their inner wants and make the neces- sary changes before burnout occurs.

In her book, she explains five signs that a person should consider planning for a pause. The first being a situation where you feel burned out from work and develop a loathing towards the job you once loved. The second is your boss telling you that it’s not working out, whether due to the loss of interest in work or other reasons. Third, you are confronted with an intervention that separates you from your work or work device, which may be in the form of a partner, family member or friend pointing out that you are over-obsessing with work.

A major life event, challenge or change is the fourth reason for a pause and while it can be due to positive or negative reasons, O’Meara believes that these circumstances are prime candidates for pauses to “allow yourself to evaluate your [future] choices and align with what matters most.” Finally, a pause is recommended when a new opportunity presents itself. As preposter- ous or farfetched the opportunity may be, consider what would happen if you did go through with it. “Often you will instinc- tively know or feel that it’s the right thing to do, and that it is what you want to happen to move forward in your life,” writes O’Meara.

Many of these signs applied to O’Meara’s younger self. She took on a new job at Google as a customer support manager – a job that was the “envy of all her friends,” – which, surprisingly ended up being a source of misery. “I’d become so engaged with work and focusing on the end goals, I’d forgotten what mattered,” writes O’Meara. From obsessing over clearing her email inbox to pleasing everyone but herself, O’Meara described her past self as someone who prioritized work over friends or family. “I wasn’t aware I had a choice to disengage, instead, I felt like this behaviour was normal.”

In addition to her heavy workload, she received feedback from her supervisor that her performance wasn’t up to par and that she needed to communicate better. Despite repeated efforts to improve, nothing seemed to work, and she became increasingly criti- cal of herself. Her supervisor made her an offer: to either find a new role before things get out of hand, or continue and eventually be let go. However, O’Meara took neither choice and applied to take a 90-day unpaid sabbatical leave – a choice that Google offered its employees and sanctioned for her under the conditions that she would find a replacement and not be returning to the same role.

For the first time in months, O’Meara felt happy again. With three months avail- able, she set a loose plan that provided her with plenty of free time. She first visited her brother in Austin, Texas then spent the remainder recuperating at Sierra Nevada. Her time in Nevada coincidentally over- lapped with Burning Man, and after attending the renowned internet and electricity- free seven-day festival, O’Meara writes that her pause was “taken to a new level,” allowing her to eventually return to Google in a different role.

Using a concept called “deep listening,” O’Meara describes how to begin planning a pause. Deep listening is referred to as a meditative state that allows “your inner voice to emerge.” It can take place at any time, whether cooking, gardening or even flying a kite. O’Meara also recommends the use of “mental flossing” to eliminate false or mistaken beliefs about ourselves.

Pause is an inspirational book filled with O’Meara’s own experiences. She cleverly weaves these stories with various handy tips and steps so that readers too may begin their own pauses. Whether you are content with your circumstances or not, your inner self would definitely appreciate a moment of self-reflection every now and then. 

Author interview: Rachael O’Meara 

Rachael O’Meara is a transformational leadership coach and a sales executive at Google, and regularly leads workshops on the practice of pausing so that audiences may bolster their emotional intelligence and learn more about the benefits of mindfulness.

Having successfully “paused” and realigned her career and relationships, O’Meara felt inspired to share her experiences with a wider audience. “I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only person on the planet who was in need of re-assessing my life path and who needed to take a look at my life, so I decided to write down a lot of what I’d learned in a book, mainly tools and things to be aware of so that you can pause when you first experience signs,” says O’Meara.

When asked about Hong Kong’s often-stressful working conditions, O’Meara points to figures from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, showing that Hong Kongers work an average of 2,300 hours each year compared to the average 1,700 hours of other developed countries. “Research shows us that breaks and time away from work actually increase creativity and productivity,” says O’Meara. “Instead, working so much results in a loss of energy, insomnia, and waning interest in everyday life.”

To address the issue of overworking and spending extended periods on our mobile devices for work, O’Meara believes it takes a collective effort from both the employee and management level. “One solution is to have a conversation about what works for you with your manager, because chances are, he or she also isn’t thrilled to be always on [call] either.” Additionally, she suggests establishing a “digital device pause” or rule that restricts engagement with our devices, and it can be for an hour or for a day, or during dinner with family or when commuting. “Experiment with what works for you.”

Taking a pause requires discipline and courage. “We all have busy periods and times of the year that result in higher stress rates, such as looming tax deadlines and fiscal year ends,” says O’Meara. Even if just for a short moment O’Meara suggests regularly doing quick pause exercises – like the “walk around the block pause” or the “sipping pause” – in order to help improve mood and well-being.

Beyond work, pausing has also helped O’Meara out with her recent wedding in September, where she and her husband had planned the entire process by themselves. “In order to enjoy myself amongst the planning and details, we created a ’Sunday morning pause’ where we took time to pause and check in with each other,” says O’Meara. “I shared about how I was feeling, what I was excited about, what I was concerned with, and he did the same.” The time spent together pausing felt “sacred” to her, and helped them bond even further to create a wedding that was both enjoyable to plan and partake in.

In 2018, O’Meara plans to offer a six-month programme for Pause, where “participants will learn the tools of Pause and apply them in their daily life to be more self-aware and have more meaning in their lives.” She adds that “being a mom would be a wonderful opportunity.”