I don’t recommend doing this in a down economy. But if you happen to find yourself burned out as well as out of a job, I have a story that might help get some perspective back in your life. A few years ago when the economy was gangbusters, I was out of work—intentionally. I walked away from my job as the CEO of Siemens Shared Services, a multimillion international company that provides administrative services for 70,000 US-based Siemens employees. I lost my passion for work so I exited a 23-year career without looking back or ahead. With no “Plan B,” I ran for the hills, or in this case, Nantucket island off the coast of Massachusetts.
I went from running like a Tasmanian devil to sitting on a beach chair, hypnotized by the rolling waves, too tired to figure out what to do next. I expected to feel better immediately, but soon realized being at the beach every day would not make me happy, either. First, I knew I was too young (46) to drop out completely. Second, I later found out I might have delivered a fatal blow to my career—dropping out without a plan often meant a significant step backwards.
Besides, how do you abandon all the behaviors you need to successfully run a multi-million dollar global business? You don’t. Within four weeks, I had my first emotional crisis. A chance encounter at a local diner left me shaken. A man sitting next to me at the counter making friendly conversation asked me what I did. I replied: “Nothing.” I used to be a CEO, but now, my answer made me feel like nothing.
Answers found me in the form of a colleague of my husband, who became my teacher and guide to rediscovering what I loved in the work I thought I hated. Our e-mail correspondence was a thoughtful dialogue about life lessons, beliefs and values. Over time, I was writing to myself and I was slowly building a list of what I needed to be happy at work. Because of this, I went back to work, renewed and restored, to an even bigger and better job.
Time off made this possible, inducing a calmness that made me ready to listen to my own heart. When I was ready, I was eager to go back. I rejoined Siemens in October 2006 with a completely different attitude. I no longer need to be one of the best; I was satisfied with trying my best and this change in my thinking made all the difference.
Time off from a high-stress job—whether you decide on your own, or someone decides for you—may end up being a life-changing event for the better. It was for me. And my priorities have never been clearer since.