Recharge! How to Plan Time Away from Your Business

NO ACCOUNTABILITY.

No time schedules. No decision overloads. No multitasking.

Everything was turned off when I took a four-month sabbatical from my job as president and one of four owners of a financial services firm, Askar Corp.

The stress of running a company of 20 employees had left me feeling tired, burned out and in need of time off.

To my partners’ great surprise — and a bit of my own — I did not come to work on May 1, 2004. (They all knew about it yet didn’t expect me to follow through with my plan.) Upon my return on September 1, I was recharged and had more energy to lead some necessary, healthy changes to the business.

But the real story here is one’s ability and freedom to choose an intentional leave of absence — a business sabbatical. Looking back, I recall a few burning questions that may help others to grapple with this choice: Is this a gender issue? What would time off do to my career? When is the appropriate time for a sabbatical? What are the potential benefits, both personal and business?

All people burn out

As a recovering perfectionist, I like to do things right and well. It’s the classic overly responsible, highachiever syndrome. At first, there was the usual self-talk: “I’ve done everything else my entire life, why can’t I simply carry on, cope and hope for the best? Everyone else seems to be able to do it.”

Although sabbaticals are more common in academic and religious circles, I had read about another business owner taking one and the impact it had on him and his business. Yet I believed that men and women think differently about the concept. It was my belief that a leave of absence is a big deal to most women, but not most men. It seemed to me that men feel they can always find some other way to support them — women do not feel this way.

What’s more, women don’t seem to talk about burnout and time off, which is why I thought it was a gender thing. But people get burned out all the time. A friend and adviser to my firm, Steve Coleman of the Platinum Group, told me that many men with the same need for recharging decide, for various reasons, to “step out and step back in.” He said that one of the keys to a successful sabbatical is having enough momentum for the business to carry forward.

Steve and I determined that momentum was evident in my business and backup was plentiful; the work would get done if I were gone. After the fourth meeting in 18 months that I talked about burnout, he asked, “What are you going to do about it?” My sabbatical started soon after.

Risk is empowering

Taking a leave of absence had both career and financial risks. There was some comfort to being the owner of a business because I had something to come back to, but I believe those who aren’t can still find that risk is empowering. There’s a freedom of feeling able to go and do something else.

Since I purposely did not put an end date on my sabbatical, the outcome was uncertain. Would I go back to the same or different position at my company or decide to move on? Early on, this was an open question. In the end, I did not feel called to change careers.

The sabbatical also was an unpaid leave so I was nervous about the lost income. Yet I didn’t fear the thought of doing something else with my career if need be; I had options.

The determining factor on taking a sabbatical came from answering questions about how I felt about money: How much is enough? Do I spend money now or later, meaning retirement? What if I die before retirement?

Everyone has a different economic reality and needs to balance the risk and reward according to a personal comfort level. Just remember, there are more ways to spend money with more time availability!

Clear and confident

Once the risks were offset in my own mind, I found the experience of turning everything off to be surprising. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling to tell your office: “Call me only if someone dies.” I basically slept and read books during the first month, focused on fun during the summer months and then started to feel lazy by August.

Feeling new energy is a sign the sabbatical is working. Opportunities came my way to help my family that I would not have been able to handle had I been working.

My goal was simply time off but others may have more specific goals or a to-do list — starting a new business, learning something in their field, diving into a new form of expression like painting, writing or sculpture.

After three months, I felt the need for structure. I started to attend meetings in the office again and found there was no easing back in. Steve counseled me not to go back to doing the same old stuff. With my renewed confidence and energy, I worked with my partners to restructure the business, which directly impacted my stress level and how our business functioned.

A change in perspective by my partners and employees also resulted. There’s a new awareness that I am a woman of my word and convicted to do the right things at the right time. And now if they see me going in a new direction, they won’t want to get left behind. They’ve also learned they can make decisions, get answers or figure out a problem without me.

Self-reliant people and newfound respect are positive side benefits. As the stress and tiredness vanished, my objectivity improved and allowed me to lead in a clear, confident direction.

Tips

  1. Set clear goals when planning a sabbatical. Determine specific benefits or outcomes from both personal and business standpoints.
  2. Have a risk-taking spirit. You will need it!
  3. Budget: Remember, it’s easier to spend money when you have more time.
  4. Define decision-making authority: Establish a plan for accountability while you are away.

Mary Burmann is president of Askar Corp., a Bloomington-based financial planning and money management firm.
Contact Mary: 952.854.9463 | mary@askar.com | www.askar.com.

Steve Coleman is a partner of Platinum Group in Eden Prairie, a consulting firm that works to restores and grow the value of privately held companies.
Contact Steve: 952.829.5700 | steve@pllc.com | www.pllc.com.

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